Authors of a new paper, "Neuroprediction of Future Rearrest" published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) say the answer to that question is both yes and no. The researchers followed inmates in the New Mexico corrections system for four years. They gave the inmates a variety of tests to try to pinpoint how impulsive they were, and did a series of brain scans.
Prior research done by Kent A. Kiehl, professor of Translational Neuroscience at the Mind Research Network and University of New Mexico faculty member has shown that the anterior cingulate cortex region of the brain is strongly engaged when a human is making decisions that involve impulsive behavior. This study explored the way the inmates made decisions.
Kiehl says this study shows that brain scans can predict future anti-social behavior better than any other variable they tested. The research group now hopes to do studies so they can understand how improve function in the anterior cingulate cortex area of the brain. They want to know whether there is a way to exercise or train this specific area of the brain so that it is more active when offenders are considering the kind of behavior that might result in being rearrested.
Kiehl says currently there isn't a way for judges or people who work with offenders to use the research in a practical way. More needs to be done to understand whether there are ways to treat individuals so that they can better control their own impulsive behavior.
The research group is also examining female offenders and children who have behavior problems that have involved them with the criminal justice system. They want to know more about how underlying problems such as drug use or drinking drive problematic behaviors. In the long term they would like to find treatment mechanisms that can help individuals control their impulses well enough to avoid committing crimes – a payoff that would result in a safer society.
Members of the research group include Eyal Aharoni and Kent A. Kiehl from the Mind Research Network, Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute and the UNM Department of Psychology, Albuquerque, NM. Vince Calhoun from the Mind Research Network, Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute and the UNM Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Albuquerque, NM; Gina M. Vincent from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA; Walter Sinnott-Armstrong from the Department of Philosophy, and Kenan Institute for Ethics, Duke University, Durham, NC and Michael S. Gazzaniga from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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