Although he maintains that it’s impossible to predict with certainty who will and will not become a criminal, the results of Criminology and Psychology professor Adrian Raine’s work takes leaps in this direction.
A recent study from Raine is the first ever to propose a link between the underdevelopment of the brain and the development of a criminal record. Although previously hypothesized, this link had never before been backed with data, Raine said.
Raine, a Penn Integrates Knowledge professor, has discovered that crime has what he calls a “neurodevelopmental” basis, contrary to widespread belief that holds only one’s environment accountable. Social scientists are not his most loyal supporters, as “neurocriminology,” an emerging subfield of criminology, threatens social scientists’ “exclusively social approach to finding a basis for crime,” he said.
The results of Raine’s study have not yet been replicated within the scientific community.
However, Psychology professors overwhelmingly held Raine’s work in high regard. Professor Jacques Barber called Raine’s findings “fascinating.”
“Social factors,” Raine argues, although important, are not the sole causes of crime, and until recently, people have “systematically ignored the biological, brain basis” to crime.
Raine is not of the opinion that biology is the sole agent either. Rather, he believes that it is a confluence of factors. “The environment shapes the brain and the brain shapes behavior, including criminal behavior and violence.”
In his brain-imaging work, Raine has taken an interest in the part of the brain called the septum pellucidum, which normally contains a gap that closes when normal neurodevelopment is complete by the age of six months.
However, in abnormal cases where the gap does not close, a cavum septum pellucidum is formed, signaling that the emotional part of the brain, the limbic system, is not developing well. Consequently, “people who go on to become criminal offenders or psychopaths have blunted emotion,” Raine explained.
Raine found that subjects scanned at ages 31 or 32 who exhibited a cavum held 3.7 times the number of criminal convictions compared to those with a normal brain.
The cause of the cavum remains unknown and could be genetic, environmental or both, Raine speculated.
Raine concluded in his study that “social circumstances don’t affect the findings at all” but that the cause of psychopathic and antisocial personalities later on is directly related to underdeveloped brains.
Barber admitted that Raine’s work can raise questions concerning the “preconditions and constraints on free will.”
Raine advocates caution, as his findings have the potential to have profound legal and ethical ramifications. He is against the use of brain imaging as a “preemptive strike, to convict someone before they’ve done any harm.”
College freshman Amy Beauchamp was in agreement. “It’s just so variable,” she said, explaining that predispositions are not always fulfilled.
College freshman Emily Fisher felt that although “biological studies have merit, it would be naïve and premature” to act upon the assumption that all people who showed such an abnormal development would become criminals.
Instead Raine hopes that society will “invest in early life” and claimed that educating parents is key.
Raine believes “biology is not destiny” and that “having a better environment can create a better brain.” Raine is now tackling the question of whether or not biologically improving the brain can really change antisocial behavior.Comments powered by Disqus
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