Michael S. Gazzaniga
Cognitive Neuroscientist

Michael Gazzaniga: The Criminal Brain

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So you got the psychopath. He has done the crime. We hold him responsible. Now we’re at the decision.

Michael S. Gazzaniga

Michael S. Gazzaniga is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he heads the new SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind. He is one of the leading researchers in cognitive neuroscience, the study of the neural basis of mind. In 1961, Gazzaniga graduated from Dartmouth College. In 1964, he received a Ph.D. in psychobiology from the California Institute of Technology, where he worked under the guidance of Roger Sperry, with primary responsibility for initiating human split-brain research. In his subsequent work he has made important advances in our understanding of functional lateralization in the brain and how the cerebral hemispheres communicate with one another. Gazzaniga's publication career includes books for a general audience The Social Brain, Mind Matters, and Nature's Mind. His most recent book Who’s In Charge investigates the question of free will in light of current neuroscience.



Michael Gazzaniga:  So let’s say brain science in 15, 20 years really understands why a certain population of people, say psychopaths, behave the way they do.  OK, we know it, we got it.  And let’s say we have figured out a treatment for them.  So you got the psychopath.  He has done the crime.  We hold him responsible.  Now we’re at the decision.  Do we treat him or put in the slammer? Right, because we now know if we can treat him they’re back to the normal population, they’re back doing normal things again. Does that satisfy in us the sense of justice that should be done to this person?  Does that satisfy our built in sense of retribution, which I think humans have in spades?  Can people live with the fact that somebody who carried out a crime against their family or their body or their property is just simply fix the guy so he doesn’t do that stuff anymore - or do they want this other component and does that other component?

That is the discussion we should be having.  We shouldn’t be confusing the fact that someone with a slight or even a serious brain disorder, are they responsible or not.  We should have the legal category in our country, which we don’t: guilty but insane, not not guilty because insane.  We should get the responsibility issue clear and then as a society we have to decide well what are we going to do about that person and just think how interesting it gets.

I think our time would be better spent trying to sort that out because I think down the pike there will be treatments.  There will be more effective treatments.  The reason why it isn’t a burning issue now is because none of our so-called treatments or rehabs or what have you are that great.  The recidivism rate just sits there around 63% no matter what you do.  So there is just isolation of just put people in institutions of one kind or another.

I think by clearing up this responsibility question we focus on the real question of what does our society decide to do about this person and that’s a tough one.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd