Adrian Raine on Neurocriminology for the WSJ

The field of neurocriminology—using neuroscience to understand and prevent crime—is revolutionizing our understanding of what drives “bad” behavior.

If early biological and genetic factors beyond the individual’s control make some people more likely to become violent offenders than others, are these individuals fully blameworthy? And if they are not, how should they be punished?

A more profound understanding of the early biological causes of violence can help us take a more empathetic, understanding and merciful approach toward both the victims of violence and the prisoners themselves. It would be a step forward in a process that should express the highest values of our civilization.

Bonus video of Dr. Raine explaining the fMRI images above. Really glad to see his work out there. And don’t forget I’m trying to get out there too.

Human behaviour: is it all in the brain – or the mind?

Neuroimaging is widely regarded as the key to understanding everything we do, but the authors of a controversial new book, Brainwashed, claim this approach is misguided and dangerous

You’ve seen the headlines: This is your brain on love. Or God. Or envy. Or happiness. And they’re reliably accompanied by pictures of colour-drenched brains – scans capturing Buddhist monks meditating, addicts craving cocaine, and students choosing Coke over Pepsi. The media – and even some neuroscientists, it seems – love to invoke the neural foundations of human behaviour to explain everything from the Bernie Madoff financial fiasco to slavish devotion to our iPhones, the sexual indiscretions of politicians, conservatives’ dismissal of global warming, and an obsession with self-tanning.

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Why we need to dispel the notion of dualistic free will

I’ve always argued that philosophers spend way too much time trying to limn conceptions of free will that avoid dualism. Instead, they write books confecting compatibilism. I regard this exercise as largely a waste of time. If philosophers truly intend for their lucubrations to change the world, then I’d think that they’d spend more of their time spreading the word about our growing knowledge of how behavior is determined and less on trying to show how we have some kind of free will.

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An excellent article on an emerging field known as neurocriminology.  From the article:

The field of neurocriminology—using neuroscience to understand and prevent crime—is revolutionizing our understanding of what drives “bad” behavior. More than 100 studies of twins and adopted children have confirmed that about half of the variance in aggressive and antisocial behavior can be attributed to genetics. Other research has begun to pinpoint which specific genes promote such behavior.

Brain-imaging techniques are identifying physical deformations and functional abnormalities that predispose some individuals to violence. In one recent study, brain scans correctly predicted which inmates in a New Mexico prison were most likely to commit another crime after release. Nor is the story exclusively genetic: A poor environment can change the early brain and make for antisocial behavior later in life.

Mo Costandi, Neurocriminology in Prohibition-Era New York, Neurophilosophy (November 6, 2010)

New York City in the 1920s and ’30s was a hotbed of criminal activity. Prohibition laws banning the production, sale and distribution of alcohol had been introduced, but instead of reducing crime, they had the opposite effect. Gangsters organized themselves and seized control of the alcohol distribution racket, smuggling first cheap rum from the Caribbean, then French champagne and English gin, into the country. Speakeasies sprang up in every neighbourhood, and numbered more than 100,000 by 1925. When prohibition was abolished in 1933, the gangsters took to other activities, such as drug distribution, and crime rates continued to increase.

At the forefront of the city’s efforts to keep crime under control was a man named Carleton Simon. Simon trained as a psychiatrist, but his reach extended far beyond the therapist’s couch. He became a ‘drug czar’ six decades before the term was first used, spearheading New York’s war against drug sellers and addicts. He was a socialite and a celebrity, who made a minor contribution to early forensic science by devising new methods to identify criminals. He also tried to apply his knowledge to gain insights into the workings of the criminal brain, becoming, effectively, the first neurocriminologist.

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Neuroscience Is Getting Its Day in Court, Whether It’s Ready or Not

John McCluskey killed a vacationing couple in eastern New Mexico in 2010, set their camper trailer on fire with their bodies inside, and took off with their truck. In sentencing hearings held after his conviction, McCluskey’s lawyers argued that he should be spared the death penalty becauseabnormalities in his brain had made him impulsive and unable to control his behavior. Last week, a jury declared it had been unable to reach the unanimous decision required to sentence him to death.

It’s not known if the brain scans and other scientific evidence played a role in McCluskey escaping the death penalty. And it’s not the first time such evidence has been introduced when the death penalty was on the line. In fact, neuroscience is making increasingly regular courtroom appearances.

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Brain Images Could Reveal Guilt

Someday soon, judgments of guilt or innocence in a courtroom might be determined from a brain scan, scientists say.

Technologies for imaging the brain have advanced rapidly, to the point where it’s possible to infer, for example, what object a person has stolen based on that person’s neural activity. But how reliable is the science, and should it determine criminal fate? A panel of scientists and legal experts discussed these issues Saturday (June 1) at the World Science Festival, an annual celebration and exploration of science held here.

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Brains on Trial

The question of whether brain scanning can detect the intentions of a criminal defendant fascinates cops, lawyers and John and Jane Doe. It’s probably still a theoretical question and may remain so for a long time to come.

Even so, Alan Alda moderated a panel of experts whose members spend a lot of time on the issue of scanners and criminal intent. Watch this session from the World Science Festival that took place on the afternoon of June 1.

On the panel were Nita A. Farahany, a scholar from Duke Law School who studies the legal and social implications of the biosciences, Kent Kiehl, who has amassed the largest database containing brain scans of  prisoners, Jed S. Rakoff, a federal judge, and Anthony D. Wagner, a Stanford University memory researcher.

Book: The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime by Adrian Raine

Welcome to my first book recommendation. I’ve read this already a little while ago, its definitely one of my favorite of 2013 so far, and would like to start with it for my first book recommendation.

The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime by Adrian Raine

This book first caught my attention while I was browsing the psychology shelves at Chapters. Mostly because I was reading a similar book; “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” by Kevin Dutton at the time and I’m always on the hunt for new perspectives. In a nutshell, the authors focus on one of the most controversial aspects of human behavior and offer a unique perspective on the origin of aggressive violent behavior, due to its extremely negative outcomes on society and individuals, a new understanding needed to be suggested, an understanding of the biological foundation that best explains the reasons behind behaviors like that occurring in the first place.

Adrain provides many examples of criminal offenders and what set them apart from the rest of us, delving into the most inner structures of their neurology, personalities, and histories, studying all that to outline the most obvious differences, such as the inability to feel fear, remorse, guilt, and also focus on the genetic factor and what it plays in the passing of violent tendencies to the next generation. Adrian finds compelling evidence of “bio-markers” that could give clue to the possibility of being predisposed to violent criminal behavior later on in adult life. In addition to the role of the environment, in shaping, reinforcing, and triggering aggression.

I really like this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the neuroscience of physical violence and how it relates to biology in terms of genes and neurology, environmental and social factors, and how it all predisposes certain individuals to commit crimes.

Check out more here.

Also check out The Wisdom of Psychopaths.