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New Study Links Brain Injuries to "Acquired Sociopathy"
This discovery brings into question how much free will there is in deciding to break the law.
How much of breaking legal or moral laws has to do with free will and how much with circumstances beyond our control has been fodder for philosophical debate for millennia. Mostly, this surrounded socioeconomic and political factors. The introduction of science ushered in whole other aspects.
Those with certain genetic mutations for instance, specifically the gene variant MAOA, are more likely to commit violent acts, research has shown. Others mutations are associated with mental illness, which may also contribute to violent outbursts. Now, the latest research out of Vanderbilt University finds that brain lesions can increase the risk of a person committing a crime. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Neuroscientists have debated whether or not there’s a link between brain injuries and violent acts, beginning with the case of Charles Whitman. In 1966 the former marine sniper took a rifle and climbed an observation tower on the campus of the University of Texas, where he shot 11 passersby below dead, until he was subdued by police (he killed 16 that day total, including his wife and mother).
After his death, an autopsy revealed he had a brain tumor—but it’s been much debated whether the tumor contributed to the incident or not. Other serial killers had suffered brain injuries, either from a fall, accident, or physical abuse, including Edmund Kemper, John Wayne Gacy Jr., Jerry Brudos, Gary Heidnik, and Ed Gein. Now, research by Ryan Darby, MD, assistant professor of Neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), is reinvigorating the argument.
It shows compelling evidence that lesions in one particular brain network can increase the risk of criminal behavior, what’s technically known as acquired sociopathy. Darby had read about famous cases, including Whitman’s, which inspired the study.
Investigators have long noticed a link between brain injury and criminal behavior. However, how influential brain injuries are to such behavior has been a matter of much debate. Credit: Getty Images.
This is the first brain-mapping study linking lesions to a higher propensity of criminal acts. A lesion is abnormal brain tissue which can occur as a result of trauma, a tumor, or a stroke. What this study found is that lesions occurring not in one specific area of the brain, but in a number of different places, can contribute to the likelihood of the person committing a crime.
Darby and colleagues conducted MRI and CT scans of convicted criminals. These were murderers, rapists, thieves, con artists, and others. The first group consisted of 17 individuals, and linked criminal behavior with brain lesions. But the second, with 23 volunteers, showed lesions in different areas of the brain. Researchers compared these brain scans to enormous neuroimaging datasets of healthy, law-abiding people. They compared each group’s connectomes, or the neural networks connecting brain regions.
Darby and colleagues discovered that although lesions inhabited different brain areas, they resided within the same neural networks in those who took part in criminal activity. Volunteers with a criminal past had lesions in the moral decision-making network, which means an injury here increases the likelihood of criminal behavior.
This network is involved with morality, value-based decision-making, “theory of mind,” and criminality. Theory of mind is being able to understand someone else’s point of view. There was no lacking in the areas where empathy is created however, which is consistent with this Harvard study, which found that psychopaths and sociopaths do have empathy and can feel regret—just a little differently than most people do.
Lesions associated with criminal behavior. These are the lesions from the initial 17 criminal patients, as compared to the brain atlas. Credit: the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to Darby:
We looked at networks involved in morality as well as different psychological processes that researchers have thought might be involved — empathy, cognitive control and other processes that are important for decision making. We saw that it was really morality and value-based decision making — reward and punishment decision making — that the lesions were strongly connected to.
The approach is relatively new and was used in the past to study why patients with certain psychological disorders suffered from delusions or hallucinations. In those studies, neuroscientists hunted down the brain networks the lesions resided in, causing these symptoms. But this is the first time it’s been used to try and understand criminal behavior from a neurological standpoint. Darby and colleagues caution that the fatalists haven’t won the debate on criminality, at least not from this study's results alone.
The researchers attribute only 9% of violence or crime to traumatic brain injury. While 14% is associated with frontal lobe injury. In fact, one 2014 study found that only 20% of the 249 mass murder cases that year could be attributed to a head injury.
There are other factors experts say that influence people to behave in a dangerous or immoral way. Likely, a number of genetic, biological, social, and psychological factors work in concert for such antisocial behavior to occur.
To hear more about the free will vs. destiny debate from a neurological standpoint, click here:
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.