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Neurocriminology: The Future

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Today we caught up with first year Biology student Madii Hussain who raises awareness of Neurocriminology, a subject which she is very passionate about.

Similar to many subjects, Criminology is branched into sub-disciplines. Neurocriminology is a sub-discipline of Criminology which brings together Neuroscience, Biology and Criminology. This sub-discipline investigates how crime can be prevented through examining genetics and brain development of people involved in violence and other crimes.

This field emerged when brain imaging made it possible for researchers to study the minds of violent criminals in comparison to the brain imaging of ‘normal’ people. Dr Adrian Raine is a leading academic in this field. He was the first person to conduct a brain imaging study on murderers and has since continued to study the brains of violent criminals and psychopaths. His research convinced him that while violent behaviour has a social and environmental element, there is also a biological element and explanation.

Neurocriminology puts the biological factors into perspective rather than the social and environmental factors resulting in criminal behaviour. Analysing brain activity is the main way to examine these biological factors. Instead of focusing on social surroundings like neglect, child abuse and general social interactions, we are focusing on deficits in the brain, low heart rates, birth complications, deprivation of oxygen, poor frontal lobe functioning and genotypes. The social factors are just as important as the biological factors because they are critical to understanding more about brain impairments. However, there isn’t one ultimate factor which leads people to commit crimes because all our minds and bodies work differently. Ultimately, we make the decision to harm someone and so we can also make the decision to not harm someone.

The central question that Neurocriminology poses to us is to what extent is an individual responsible for their actions? We cannot scan every brain in the world, so there is bound to be a serial killer on the loose, as we go about our lives. However, by knowing that individuals with a reduced volume of amygdala, are 4x more likely to commit a violent act in the next 3 years, does this change things? could we have prevented the making of a serial killer? The responsibility automatically shifts from the perpetrator’s acts to the deficits in the brain.

We now have the power to delve into the mind and urges of a violent criminal. At the core of this sub-discipline, advances in technology have made it possible to monitor brain activity. Personally, I take much interest in Neurocriminology because it has huge potential to positively disrupt the world of serious crime. Advances in brain technology can allow us to track brain development from early ages to adulthood. Therefore, we will be able to predict within a cohort, who are the ones that may resort to criminal behaviour before they are even exposed to these behaviours. These findings are not concrete. People with multiple brain deficiencies may not resort to criminal behaviour. However, examining many different types of brains is the only way to provide us with more definitive knowledge. As a result, uncovering the biological factors alongside the social and environmental ones, provides a new outlook for reducing crime.

It is debatable whether Neurocriminology is a more advantageous or disadvantageous sub-discipline. Right now, there is so much more to discover about the brain. In the future, we will be able to reduce the number of lives being lost, simply by using brain technology. We will also be able to accurately predict whether someone is likely to become involved in criminal behaviour or reoffend in the future.

Neurocriminology is an emerging sub-discipline that will benefit us in the long-term with increased technological developments and education, alongside criminology. Criminology has explored and provided us with social and environmental explanations to the causes of crime. Neurocriminology will provide us with the biological explanations to the causes of crime. When the brakes of a car malfunction, the car gets out of control. Similarly, when there are deficits in parts of the brain, people can also get out of control.

By no means does the combination of science and technology, provide us with a perfect explanation to the causes of crime. However, we are one step closer to preventing crimes before they have a chance to occur, simply by examining the powerhouse of the human anatomy.