The challenges of Neurocriminology: A guest article and infographic on Crime Traveller from the Expert Witness Network.
Neurocriminology is the study of understanding the brains of criminals. It seeks to identify those with genetic or neurological predispositions in a hope to find a treatment or prevention strategy. In this field of study most of the aggressive or antisocial behavior is attributed to genetics, or poor environments in developmental years. Neurocriminology has identified a large portion of criminals with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ADP), and it is learning more about this disorder that could be the key to solving or preventing crimes.
What is ADP?
ADP, or psychopathy, refers to someone who lacks conscience and empathy. This makes them manipulative, volatile and often criminal. 35% of prison inmates have ADP, and experts believe that 1-2% of the general adult male population are psychopaths. However, majority of people with antisocial tendencies are not psychopaths.
Additional common factors of APD include having an amygdala that is 18% smaller than average, and the psychopathic prefrontal cortex (PFC) has an 11% reduction in grey matter. The majority of those diagnosed with psychopathy are impervious to treatment.
Science v. Free Will
Although Neurocriminology is a relatively new field of study; it still falls under a great deal of controversy. From the conservative prospective, attributing behavior to genetics and environment takes blame off the criminal and condones violence. However, from the liberal prospective, if criminals are identified by their biology, then they are victim of circumstances beyond their control.
Common concerns are how this will affect the sentencing of criminals. Should a person with a neuroanatomical predisposition for crime receive more or less jail time? Likewise, should statistics guide sentencing or granting parole, or would this system deny free will?
This process will also affect how those are convicted. Is it possible to place a murder suspect in an MRI to determine if he is lying, or is this a violation of the American right to not incriminate yourself (the fifth amendment)?
Apart from the controversy, Neurocriminology has found evidence that those with a certain gene and environmental circumstances predispose them to criminal behavior. 15-20% of the prison population has psychopathy, and those with psychopathy are committing more violent crimes than their counterparts.
However, there are now new studies being done on “successful” psychopaths that have managed to avoid prison or forensic hospitals. Given the dichotomy of those who commit violent crimes and those who live with these tendencies, experts are attempting to piece apart how these individuals develop psychopathic tendencies.
Criminals are not always born they can be made. Poor environments, such as smoking and drinking by the mother prior to birth and poor nutrition can lead to higher aggression and violence in adulthood. Also, lead exposure as a child can lead to criminal behavior later in life.
Biologically, a person is more likely to be diagnosed with psychopathy if they have biological parents with aggressive tendencies. Since 40-60% of aggressive tendencies are inherited, a person with biological parents with three or more offensives is more likely to be convicted of a crime than someone with parents that have no offenses.
Additionally, if a personal has a genotype enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), or more commonly known was “The Warrior Gene”, this combined with early child abuse predisposes later antisocial behavior.
Are Psychopaths Responsible for Their Crimes?
Do all of these biological and environmental factors exclude criminals from being responsible for their crimes? According to law enforcement: No.
The current criteria for determining if a criminal was aware of their crimes include if they have sufficient rational capacity and if they were not acting under coercion. In cases where an individual has documentation of neurobiological risk factors, no matter how early; it will not render an individual to lack responsibility.
Why Do We Need More Experts Within Neurocriminology?
So where do we need experts to come in? In preventative fashion, psycho pharmacological interventions to psychopathic individuals treats hyperactivity and depression conditions which exist in tandem with aggressive behavior.
Also, nutritional supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids and exercise can help treat violent tendencies. Experts will be needed to identify those predisposed to crime with Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI) used to diagnose ADP and the Hare psychopathy Checklist to diagnose psychopathy.