Brain Scans Predict Criminal Behaviour


Recent research shows that brain scans can predict whether convicted felons are likely to engage in criminal behavior in the future,.

The study involved 100 male prisoners who underwent a functional MRI scan just before they were released.


During the scan they were shown letters flashing on to a TV screen, either an X (84% of time) or a K (16% of the time).  They were told to press a button within 1 second when the letter X appeared, but do nothing if the letter K appeared.

Because the X appeared most of the time, they would have to stop themselves from pushing the button when the K appeared.  In other words, this was a test of impulsivity.

The investigators analyzed brain activity in the the prisoners’ anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), an area located at the front of the brain that is responsible for making decisions, while they performed this task.


The subjects who made more errors on the task had lower activity in the ACC, suggesting an inclination to act upon impulses without thinking.

After being released from prison, the men were followed up for four years.

Interestingly, the men who had lower levels of ACC activity were re-arrested 2.6 times more for all crimes and 4.3 times more for nonviolent crimes.

A potential neurocognitive biomarker for persistent antisocial behavior?

Click here to find out more.


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