The paper, which is to be published in the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences, studied impulsive and antisocial behaviour
and centred on the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that
deals with regulating behaviour and impulsivity.
What the study showed
The study demonstrated that inmates with relatively low
anterior cingulate activity were twice as likely to reoffend than inmates with
high-brain activity in this region.
"These findings have incredibly significant
ramifications for the future of how our society deals with criminal justice and
offenders," said Dr. Kent A. Kiehl, who was senior author on the study and
is director of mobile imaging at MRN and an associate professor of psychology
at the University of New Mexico. "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."
The study looked at 96 adult male criminal offenders aged
20-52 who volunteered to participate in research studies. This study population
was followed over a period of up to four years after inmates were released from
"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
The study used the Mind Research Network's Mobile Magnetic Resonance
Imaging (MRI) System to collect neuroimaging data as the inmate volunteers
completed a series of mental tests.
Brain function and
"People who reoffended were much more likely to have
lower activity in the anterior cingulate cortices than those who had higher
functioning ACCs," Kiehl said. "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 behaviour that
leads to re-arrest."
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. Indeed, ACC-damaged patients have
been classed in the 'acquired psychopathic personality' genre."
Kiehl says he is working on developing treatments that
increase activity within the ACC to attempt to treat the high-risk offenders.