The Wall Street Journal had a great story last weekend written by Dr. Adrian Raine, a professor of criminology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of a new book, “The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime.”
Raine starts out the piece by talking about the man who he identified as the founding father of modern criminology, Dr. Cesare Lombroso. He was a prison doctor at an asylum for the criminally insane, and in 1871 he found an abnormality in the brain of a celebrated criminal who had passed away. He linked that abnormality to the man’s actions.
Unfortunately, Lombroso’s theories about the brain and criminals evolved themselves and became very racist, and Raine wrote that “after the horrors of World War II,” scientists didn’t want to tie physical characteristics to brain function.
But modern science now has the tools to understand “the genetic and neurological components of criminal behavior,” according to Raine.
“They have uncovered, quite literally, the anatomy of violence, at a time when many of us are preoccupied by the persistence of violent outrages in our midst,” he wrote in The Journal.
Today brain-imaging technologies “are identifying physical deformations and functional abnormalities that predispose some individuals to violence,” Raine wrote. He noted that brain scans on New Mexico inmates “correctly predicted” which ones would commit crimes after their release.
Raine has many examples of the scientific evidence linking genetics and characteristics of the brain to taking violent actions. He acknowledged that this science, neurocriminology, makes conservatives and liberals alike nervous, with conservatives afraid criminals won’t be held responsible for their actions, and liberals not wanting to stigmatize anyone.
But Raine piles the evidence on. He wrote that “numerous” studies of identical twins, with the many genes they have in common, have found that they “are much more similar to each other in terms of crime and aggression than are fraternal twins, who share only 50 percent of their genes.”
I highly recommend reading Raine’s article, which is headlined “The Criminal Mind.” His discussion of case studies and recent research in neurocriminology raises fascinating issues, far more eloquently than I can sum them up here.