The Mind Research Network in Albuquerque says that brain scans can predict the likelihood of whether a criminal will re-offend following release from prison.
They studied impulsive and antisocial behavior and centered on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain linked to regulating behavior and impulsivity. The study looked at 96 adult male criminal offenders aged 20-52 who volunteered to participate in research studies. They used a mobile magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system to collect neuroimaging data as the inmate volunteers completed a series of mental tests. This study population was followed over a period of up to four years after inmates were released from prison.
The anterior cingulate cortex of the brain is "associated with error processing, conflict monitoring, response selection, and avoidance learning," according to the paper. People who have this area of the brain damaged have been "shown to produce changes in disinhibition, apathy, and aggressiveness. ACC-damaged patients have been classed in the 'acquired psychopathic personality' genre."
They found that inmates with relatively low anterior cingulate activity were twice as likely to re-offend than inmates with high-brain activity in this region.
"People who reoffended were much more likely to have lower activity in the anterior cingulate cortices than those who had higher functioning ACCs," says Dr. Kent A. Kiehl, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico
and senior author on the study . "This means we can see on an MRI a part of the brain that might not be working correctly -- giving us a look into who is more likely to demonstrate impulsive and anti-social behavior that leads to re-arrest.
"These findings have incredibly significant ramifications for the future of how our society deals with criminal justice and offenders. Not only does this study give us a tool to predict which criminals may reoffend and which ones will not reoffend, it also provides a path forward for steering offenders into more effective targeted therapies to reduce the risk of future criminal activity."
"These results point the way toward a promising method of neuroprediction with great practical potential in the legal system," said Dr. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics in the Philosophy Department and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, who collaborated on the study. "Much more work needs to be done, but this line of research could help to make our criminal justice system more effective."
Kiehl says he is working on developing treatments that increase activity within the ACC to attempt to treat the high-risk offenders.
Published in PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1219302110