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Crime Causation: Biological Theories

Future Directions: Brain Imaging And Criminal Behavior

The field of neuroscience, through the use of brain imaging techniques, has provided illuminating data on the etiology of severe mental disorders, including depression and schizophrenia. These recent technological innovations are computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which provide information on brain structure, and positron emission tomography (PET) and regional cerebral blood flow (RCBF), which provide information on brain functioning. The advances and disadvantages of each method are thoroughly discussed in Raine (1993). These methods have recently been applied to the study of criminal behavior, lending support to the theory that criminal behavior may be associated with brain dysfunction.

To date, over 20 studies using these techniques have been published (see Raine, 1996). Taken together, these studies suggest that frontal and temporal dysfunction may be associated with violent behavior. The link between frontal dysfunction and impulsive, violent criminality is consistent with the notion that frontal lobe damage may be associated with a variety of correlates of violent behavior, including impulsivity, behavioral disinhibition, and poor concentration (Raine, 1993). It should be noted that these brain abnormalities may be caused by genetic, biological, or environmental agents. Criminals may be more likely to be involved in physical fights than noncriminals, and sustain head injuries as a result. Frontal lobe damage may also be attributed to birth or delivery complications, for example. Another concern relates to the issue of timing. Are structural and functional deficits present prior to the onset of criminal behavior, or are these changes in the brain triggered after the individual has begun their criminal career? To our knowledge, no study has been conducted examining pre-morbid measures of brain structure and function among criminals. Despite these issues, it is likely that our understanding of the biological and genetic underpinnings of criminal behavior will be greatly advanced through continued developments in brain imaging research.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawCrime Causation: Biological Theories - Genetic Epidemiological Studies, Gene-environment Interactions, Sex Differences In Genetic Liability To Criminality, Is There A Genetic Liability To Violence?