The Criminal Mind: Brain Scans Reveal Differences

by edralyn on July 11, 2013

The Criminal Mind: Brain Scans Reveal Differences

Are you a criminal mastermind? If so, you’re different than the rest of the population. Studies in neuroscience have revealed that the brains of certain types of criminals are different than the brains of the average citizen. While it’s not fair to say that all criminals possess the same neurological characteristics, and not all who possess those characteristics go on to lives of crime, there is a marked correlation that is worth continued study.

1.The Frontal Lobe

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with antisocial personality disorder often violate the law because they have no regard for right and wrong. In a recent study, 21 people diagnosed with APD agreed to have their brains scanned. When compared with scans from a control group, an average of an 18-percent reduction in the volume of the middle frontal gyrus was noted in those with APD. There was also a nine percent reduction in the orbital frontal gyrus.


For typical people, the amygdala is the seat of emotion. People have this section of the brain to thank for empathy, sympathy, joy, anger, jealousy; all of the emotions felt by humans. A brain study published in an issue of “General Psychiatry” showed that people with APD had a thinning of the outer layer of the amygdala and an 18 percent reduction in its volume. This study lends answers to the question of why psychopaths do not have the ability to feel or express guilt and remorse.


In one of the most interesting studies, and one of the most controversial, children aged three were measured for their response to fear. These children were given a stimulus and then a small electrical shock. Involuntary physical impulses were then measured when children were presented with the same stimulus, minus the shock. Children who would later grow up to become criminals showed a distinct lack of fear when presented with the stimulus in comparison to other children.

Mug Shot


Correlations have been shown between callousness and crime. Criminologist Nathalie Fontaine of Indiana University has studied children between the ages of seven and 12. Children who tend to be callous and unemotional are at a greater risk of becoming criminals than children with typical emotions. This research has shown that criminals and criminal behavior can be identified early on, allowing for intervention.

5.Now What?

Thanks to the knowledge of the brain patterns and functioning of criminals, researchers are looking for methods that can turn potential criminals into positive members of society. For example, Fontaine’s studies have shown that children who present as callous and unemotional do not respond well to time-outs. For these children, positive reinforcement is the answer. In other research, children are given omega-3 supplements. These children are being studied to show whether the fatty acids have an effect on the structure of the brain.

While the criminal brain tends to be physiologically different than that of the law-abiding citizen, hope is not lost. By identifying possible criminals earlier in life, we can stop the behavior before it begins. Though philosophical questions are being raised with regards to the scanning of children for the possibility of later criminal behavior, understanding the criminal brain is a necessity for a civilized society.

Writer Brett Harris is an avid blogger. Interested in learning more about the human mind? Consider an online masters in psychology.

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