Scientists: Brain Scans Can Predict Which Criminals May Reoffend

Posted on March 28, 2013

Scientists say low anterior cingulate activity can be linked to repeat offenses. Researchers from The Mind Research Network (MRN) in Albuquerque, N.M., conducted a study they say shows that neuroimaging data can predict the likelihood of whether a criminal will reoffend after being released from prison. Using brain scans, the researchers found that inmates with relatively low anterior cingulate activity (ACC) were twice more likely to get rearrested after being released that those with high ACC activity. The ACC is a portion of the brain that deals with regulating behavior and impulsivity.

The study followed 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 prison.

The research paper, "Neuroprediction of Future Rearrest," was published here in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers say the odds that an offender with relatively low anterior cingulate activity would be rearrested were approximately double that of an offender with high activity in this region.

Dr. Kent A. Kiehl, senior author on the study and is director of mobile imaging at MRN, said in a release, "These findings have incredibly significant ramifications for the future of how our society deals with criminal justice and offenders. 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."

Kiehl also says, "People who reoffended were much more likely to have lower activity in the anterior cingulate cortices than those who had higher functioning ACCs. 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 behavior that leads to re-arrest."

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, says, "These results point the way toward a promising method of neuroprediction with great practical potential in the legal system. Much more work needs to be done, but this line of research could help to make our criminal justice system more effective."

If brain scans can accurately predict which criminals will reoffend it will definitely give the criminal justice system a great tool, howeover, there will be ethical concerns about neuroprediction and how it used.