The Criminal Mind is Different

You probably have seen an episode of Law and Order: SVU or Criminal Minds during which the police psychologist explains a brain scan of an accused criminal to a packed courtroom.  It makes for great television, but does this premise reflect real science?  The answer appears to be yes.  With that affirmation comes perhaps the more difficult question – what do we do with that information?

Research published over the last several years shows both physical and behavioral indicators of likely criminal activity.  Scans done on a group of men and women with antisocial personality disorder, a trait that has shown some correlation with criminal conduct, have revealed reductions in two areas of the brain’s frontal lobe and in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls emotion.  A long-term study that followed young children into adulthood showed that those who displayed a lack of fear and a callous or detached attitude when kids more often earned a criminal record as they grew into teens and young adults.

So, what should law enforcement, and medical professionals, do with this evaluation?  Can pediatricians suggest early brain scans and then put certain kids on a watch list?  If a serial murderer kills women across several states before finally being captured, can he show a picture of his brain to the jury and claim that he just couldn’t help it?

It is fascinating and helpful to be able to study a criminal’s mind and hopefully use what we learn to prevent violence in the future.  But, we must be careful to balance these discoveries with the need to maintain privacy and a sense of responsibility for one’s own actions.

What do you think? 

How should knowledge about the likely differences in a criminal’s brain be used by attorneys, police officers, educators, etc.?

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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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7 Responses to The Criminal Mind is Different

  1. Pingback: Welcome Award Winning, Guest Blogger, Jennifer Chase » Criminal Profiling

  2. rbryant224 says:

    Wow Jennifer! I blinked my eyes and your blog was ready. Thank you so much not only on the response time, but also the great blog. Much appreciated. Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do for you.  Your blog is featured at  and Robbi Robbi Sommers Bryant

    Vice President Redwood Writers, Branch of California Writers Club Author of THE BEAUTIFUL, SUPPORT IMAGINATION. READ A BOOK.


  3. carsoncanada says:

    I find the whole notion rather scary. We still insist that we can understand the whole by studying its parts and that just isn’t so. We are in the most ironic situation of having tapped into our capacity to explore the world without having developed our capacity to understand our results or ourselves. When I read about issues around cloning, I shiver head-to-toe. I don’t care what rational is offered for its continuation, the possible misuse is boggling. So too with mapping the mind and determining predispositions from those activity maps. Utterly frightening. Plus, those approaches ( and science was my background) constantly deter us from more holistic investigation, for that is the harder path in that it requires self-exploration along with what’s done in the lab. Great question to explore, Jennifer.


  4. Rob Mahan says:

    Shades of “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick.

    Who do we trust to maintain that careful balance? Law enforcement? Medical professionals? Pediatricians? Politicians? Independent panels? Masterminds? Precogs? Is an ounce of liberty worth a pound of security? Only if it makes for a good book.

    Sorry if that sounded like a bit of a rant, Jennifer. I think you touched a nerve there, which is what great writing should do!

    All the best,


    • I appreciate your comment Rob! It does seem that we pay a hefty price for security a little bit more each year. I agree, who is going to watch the ones with all the power? Thanks for stopping by!


  5. Pingback: The Criminal Mind is Different « Jane Risdon

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