An Online Symposium on The Anatomy of Violence

  • February 6, 2014

In Philip K. Dick’s story "Minority Report," on which the film is based, special police officers arrest criminals before they commit a crime. They had “foreknowledge” of criminal possibility. If we had such knowledge, should we use it?

 








 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreword: The Monsters are in the Molecules

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Ronald K.L. Collins

Dr. Adrian Raine’s The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime (Pantheon, 2013) is the ideal kind of book for our first venture into the realm of extended discussion. Though we reviewed it last May, we thought it important enough to revisit.

The Anatomy of Violence blends biological science with the study of criminal behavior in ways that cause us to pause, reflect, and think anew about how we look at those who murder with malice. Enter the bold and brave new world of neurocriminology, which may strike some as long overdue, and others as tending toward Huxley’s dystopia. Make what you will of this book, it will force you to think like few other works can.

Merely consider the following questions:

  • Is the brain indeed the prime suspect when it comes to horrific crimes?
  • Does our molecular structure or DNA determine our destiny, for the benevolent best or malevolent worst?
  • To what extent, if any, should crime-prevention policies take account of the findings of neurocriminology? (And just how reliable is this new science?)
  • What about neurocriminology as applied to race?
  • Is there a scientific solution to this scientific problem, and are we, as a free society, willing to go there?  
  • If genetic abnormalities (or even a low resting heart rate) shape the criminal mind, how is punishment to be dispensed when the cause of certain crimes is more biological than volitional?
  • How should the law regulate those who harbor “criminal biomarkers” that are purportedly linked to violent crime?
  • How do we approach the matter of civil liberties for criminals with “broken brains”? (Think of brain surgery and/or indefinite preventative detention.)
  • More generally, what does all of this say about questions of free will and human responsibility?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, there is more, much more, here than a Jack the Ripper story — there is the question of the role of science in society. It may be that there are other important factors (such as understanding violence as an adaption to one’s environment) that come into this circle of study. It may be that more research is needed, that Dr. Raine has yet to definitively prove his case in the court of science. Even so, it is hard to read The Anatomy of Violence and not come away with a haunting sense that we are on the threshold of something well beyond our paradigms of punishment, and perhaps even beyond good and evil. 

Yes, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” But where in ourselves? That is the question, one that takes on new meaning as scientists seek answers in the crevices of our cortices. 

To help flesh out some of the instructive and provocative points raised in Dr. Raine’s illuminating book, we invited noted professor of clinical psychiatry Laurence R. Tancredi and professor of law Francis X. Shen who specializes in neuroscience and the law, to share their thoughts on the matter. In the spirit of a free exchange of ideas, we also invited Dr. Raine to reply.

What follows is a dialogue, sometimes a tad technical, but always thoughtful, about how our world may take shape in the decades to come. We hope it invites yet more thought in other quarters, both home and abroad.

Ronald
Collins is one of the founding members of the Washington Independent Review of
Books and sits on its board of directors. He is the Harold S. Shefelman Scholar
at the University of Washington School of Law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary by Francis X. Shen

In his superb book, The Anatomy of Violence, Adrian Raine aims to convince his reader that there exists a biological basis to violence. I hope that most in law and policy will be persuaded by this basic proposition, even if they disagree with the proposed remedies. Raine’s impressive combination of data and colorful cases should convince even the skeptical reader that when we talk about violence we’re talking (in part) about the brain. But as impressive as the book is, an important caveat should be added to contextualize Raine’s story: This isn’t the first time it’s been told.


A Look Back

Consider this passage, from an article in Fortune magazine: “A broad interdisciplinary effort is getting under way to explore the biological nature and origins of violence. Biologists, biochemists, neurophysiologists, geneticists, and other natural scientists are probing with increasingly precise tools and techniques in a field where supposition and speculation have long prevailed.” The article continued: “Their work is beginning to provide new clues to the complex ways in which the brain shapes violent behavior. It is also shedding new light on how environmental influences, by affecting the brain, can trigger violence. In time, these insights and discoveries could lead to practical action that may inhibit violent acts.”

In most ways, the passage seems a straightforward summary of advances in brain science and their implications for crime control. I imagine that Raine would consider it a decent enough summary of his book, as The Anatomy of Violence discusses the complexities of brain-environment interaction, emphasizes the need for early intervention, and touches upon the potential for pharmacological intervention.

But here’s what’s interesting: The passage was written in 1973 (Gene Bylinsky, “New Clues to the Causes of Violence.”). The magazine article was reporting on a book published three years earlier, Violence and the Brain, by Harvard Medical School faculty members Vernon Mark (a neurosurgeon) and Frank Ervin (a psychiatrist and neurophysiologist). Mark and Ervin’s book was the summation of over a decade of research on brain interventions to reduce violent tendencies. The book was heralded in the Los Angeles Times as “the first publication accessible to lay audiences that deals squarely with the biological basis of violent behavior.”

Thus it turns out that over forty years before the publication of The Anatomy of Violence, the case was already being made that brain science should be harnessed to improve the criminal justice system. But the message didn’t stick, which begs the questions: Why not? Will The Anatomy of Violence transform the criminal justice system in ways that Violence and the Brain did not? Or, 40 years from now, will the story need to be re-told again?


Violence and the Brain

Before looking to the future, it’s worth lingering in the past to compare Violence and the Brain and The Anatomy of Violence. Like Raine, Mark and Ervin observe that violence remains a societal problem, and encourage traditional behavioral scientists to consider a biological perspective: “Even those social scientists who disdain a biological approach to what they consider an exclusively social problem will have to agree that a new point of view might be helpful.” Also like Raine, Mark and Ervin write that “violence is a public health problem, and the major thrust of any program dealing with violence must be toward its prevention.”

Because the parallels between the perspectives are so numerous, it would be fascinating to know Raine’s views on this body of scholarship. For instance, as the country was wrestling with how to respond to urban riots in 1967, Mark and Ervin wrote to the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association and asked their colleagues to consider the overlooked role of brain dysfunction in contributing to the violence. They wrote “[t]hat poverty, unemployment, slum housing, and inadequate education underlie the nation’s urban riots is well known, but the obviousness of these causes may have blinded us to the more subtle role of other possible factors, including brain dysfunction in the rioters who engaged in arson, sniping, and physical assault.”

Would Raine applaud this sentiment? Would he write a similar letter today regarding gang violence? What does he think of Mark and Ervin (and Jose Delgado’s) work more generally? We can only speculate, for despite the seemingly close parallels, The Anatomy of Violence does not even cite Mark and Ervin’s work. More generally the 20th century’s history with psychosurgery (most notably the frontal lobotomy) is overlooked.

This is understandable in the sense that this is a book about Raine’s new research, not older methods and studies from decades previous. But it’s curious that not even a few pages were devoted to the topic. In Raine’s historical narrative, “Lombrosian thinking fell into disrepute in the twentieth century and was replaced by a sociological perspective on human behavior — including crime — which still holds sway today.” The sociological perspective may have been dominant, but this dominance did not go unchallenged. Whatever the trends in criminology, Lombroso’s spirit was animating the work of other disciplines.

It’s not entirely clear how Raine would critique those who practiced, or those who still advocate for, psychosurgery. On one hand, Raine emphasizes that we should reject an overly simplistic understanding of the brain-violence relationship, recognizing instead the “multiple distributed brain processes that in turn give rise to broad social and psychological processes that predispose someone to violence.” Perhaps cutting out one ingredient from the recipe for violence is overly simplistic.

On the other hand, a complete understanding of the underlying neural mechanisms isn’t required to intervene. As one psychosurgeon put it in 1973, “We must work in partial ignorance to relieve suffering.” To relieve suffering today, would Raine advocate for considering (new, more advanced) psychosurgery as a possible intervention? If not, how would he distinguish his proposals from theirs? Does he share Marks’ view that these methods should not be used on incarcerated individuals because of informed consent concerns?


A Look Ahead

Let me close with a reflection, aimed not only at Raine’s work but at all who are working in the “neuroscience and …” domains of neurocriminology, neurolaw, neuroeconomics, and the like. We like to fashion our work as new, and we paint futuristic pictures to consider where this tantalizing neuroscience technology is taking us. Raine does this in the final chapter of the book, as he invites his readers to join him in imagining a future in which we treat criminals (and potential criminals) much differently. Raine’s thought experiment, like his book, is well executed and engaging to read. It’s fun to think about the future.

But it is also important to reflect upon the past. Consider in closing this 1948 assessment of psychosurgery as a criminal treatment: “Psychosurgery has startling implications for rehabilitation…and it is proving successful in an increasing number of cases. Perfection of so relatively simple and inexpensive a rehabilitative technique as the prefrontal lobotomy promises to be a major contribution to the cure of criminals.”

Those comments were published in the Yale Law Journal, the nation’s leading outlet for legal scholarship. (The piece was titled “Toward Rehabilitation of Criminals: Appraisal of Statutory Treatment of Mentally Disordered Recidivists.”) Looking back, it is easy to critique the work as being overly optimistic and not rigorous enough in its evaluation of the research. But at the time, this might have been a reasonable view of the future. After all, Egas Moniz won a Nobel Prize in 1949 for his work on psychosurgery, and many experts concurred at the time that it had a promising future.

In 1970, too, there seemed great promise about the integration of brain science and criminology. A reviewer of Violence and the Brain wrote in that year: The book “should encourage both criminologists and medical personnel to integrate their fields. There is no question that today such an approach is desperately wanting.” Violence and the Brain may have encouraged criminologists and brain scientists to talk, but that encouragement did not blossom into sufficiently effective interventions. Let’s hope that Adrian Raine’s attempt to spur interdisciplinary dialogue with The Anatomy of the Brain’s is more successful. Such an approach is still desperately wanting.

Francis Shen is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. He serves as executive director of education and outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. He is co-authoring the first course book on Law and Neuroscience (2014, Aspen Publishers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary by Laurence R. Tancredi

Presenting a compelling case for the biological basis of violence in this very well-documented work, Adrian Raine begins with a discussion of the relatively high correlation of low pulse in children, and the development of psychopathic behavior later in life. He perceives the abnormal pulse rate as related to lack of fear conditioning; a low heart rate reflects a lack of fear, and children who are so affected are not afraid of repercussions, such as being hurt or punished. They are also unable to recognize emotions such as fear and sadness in others and, as a result, are unable to put themselves in another person’s situation, thus lacking empathy. Finally, he reports that low arousal (related to low pulse rate) is an unpleasant physiological state. Hence, those with this condition seek stimulation through thrill seeking behavior to increase their arousal to an optimum level of comfort and effectiveness. Raine follows with twin studies that demonstrate the heritability of traits leading to violence, and distinguishes non-aggressive antisocial behavior as heritable at 48% and aggressive at 65%, emphasizing that genetic influences are strongest for antisocial careers that begin early in a person’s life.

At the same time, Raine acknowledges the importance of environmental influences, even more than the usual suspect of head injury, shown to be correlated with violence and psychopathy.  There is no mention of the pivotal role of  “mirror neurons” for translating through mimicking environment into biological changes. He states that twin studies support the fact that about 50% of variance is related to environment.

Using PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), Raine has done some of the most exhaustive studies on brain biology and violence, demonstrating significant brain abnormalities associated with psychopathic behavior, abnormalities of the prefrontal cortex, especially the orbitofrontal and ventral prefrontal cortices, the angular gyrus, the posterior cingulate, and the amygdala. He alludes to the pioneering work of Josh Green, who demonstrated that, during personal moral dilemmas, the brain shows significant activation in circuits involving the angular gyrus, medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate, and the amygdala (the ventral prefrontal region was shown later to also be activated).  

Raine acknowledges that we are unable at this time to use high tech tools such as brain imaging to establish who is normal, a one-time murderer, or likely to become a serial killer. However, he feels these tools allow us to develop important clues as to which brain regions when dysfunctional can result in violent behavior.


Exploring Three Issues

Focusing my comments on the scientific value of biological information as it might be used in the courtroom for assessing a violent psychopath, three issues will be explored:

  • first, conceptual problems such as the significance of identifying individual brain “entities” as responsible for behaviors;
  • second, the statistical significance of genetic and environmental information as they relate to an individual case; and,
  • third, the import of “free will” in its global sense and its application to individual situations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raine highlights that imaging can identify activation of brain entities or functional bodies (especially the prefrontal lobe) that correlate with antisocial behavior. To some extent, these determinations are problematic. The ventral prefrontal cortex or medial frontal cortex may be important for self-reflection and making “appropriate” moral decisions, and the orbitofrontal cortex for generating somatic markers that inform good decision-making. What is not delineated is the complexity of neural networks that connect other brain “networks” that may augment or dampen the effects on the entities being studied. The brain seems far more complex than the simple relating of one or more bodies to an emotional state or behavior.

To illustrate, we know of at least two brain entities that are associated with avoidance of punishment: the habenula — particularly the lateral habenula, which has been shown to adaptively control punishment-avoidance and reward seeking behaviors (see references, below) — and the right lateral prefrontal cortex, which has been shown to posses a cultural norm of “fairness,” with concomitant fear of punishment if violations occur (see references, below).

These two bodies relate to punishment, though there may be others activated to varying degrees by fear of retribution. Their precise role — correlation or causative — and power in light of complex circuitry remains unknown. Imaging at this point helps to determine what happens in the brain when thoughts and feelings are experienced and acts are conducted, but the calculus of levels of influence of these bodies and their relevance to specific conditions has yet to be fully established.

With regards to relevance of imaging in the courtroom, there are some operational problems with functional MRI (and probably PET as well). For example, biologically relevant chemicals that exist in very low concentrations, which include many of the neurotransmitters underlying neuronal communications in the brain, are mostly undetectable by MRI; magnetic field inhomogeneities, which are the most important source of distortions, affect the localization of neural activity, an effect that is most accentuated in the area where the orbital frontal cortex is located; and, because of the complexity of the factors that influence the BOLD signals measured by fMRI, such as cerebral blood volume, blood flow, and metabolic rates of oxygen consumption, changes in the BOLD signal might not always reflect neural activity. 

Perhaps even more important, an MRI image doesn’t explain by itself psychiatric syndromes, complex behavior, and even a discrete impulsive reaction. A 99% correlation from a group study between an abnormal pattern of fMRI activity in a brain image and violent behavior doesn’t tell us why person “X” committed murder. Nor does it reveal a set of critical underlying issues to impute personal responsibility, i.e., the relationship in a specific case between the fMRI image and brain damage, and, more importantly, the degree to which the brain damage affects, if it does, the subject’s behavior (see references, below). Equally important, we don’t understand what factors in the face of serious brain damage allow some to overcome these limitations to control their behavior and not commit a crime, and others to lose control and follow through with violent acts.

Regarding the statistical significance of findings, they are frequently inadequate to apply them to individual cases. For example, Raine points out the impact of genetics and environment on behavior. He shows that neither genetic dysfunctions nor environmental problems alone increase the likelihood of producing violent individuals over the prevalence seen in the control population, of roughly 3%. However, if one combines genetic or birth complications with an adverse environmental factor, such as maternal rejection, the combination of risk factors — referred to as “interaction hypothesis” — increases the likelihood of violence threefold, thus reaching 9%. 

Raine discusses the circumstances where biological factors are not strong, but a bad home or environment may serve as a “social push” towards violence, in contrast to where the biological dimensions are strong and the social ones minimal. However, this level of statistical difference would not likely convince a jury that an afflicted person lacked the capacity to appreciate his actions and conform his behavior to social norms. The power of the statistical difference becomes perhaps greater if we go from 30% — where only one factor is present — to 90%, when both are present. The levels of biological correlation (and possibly causation) for criminal responsibility as they might affect trial outcomes have not been delineated.

The third issue focuses on “free will.” Benjamin Libet’s research with the use of EEGs demonstrated that event-related potentials for movement of a body part appeared in the premotor cortex milliseconds before the individual thinks about moving that part. Additionally, the work of Paul Glimcher and Michael Platt shows that neurons of the lateral intraparietal area of the brain have preferences of areas of the visual fields, and “know” a lot about their receptive fields from previous experience. This suggests that the brain operates largely automatically, no doubt motivated by current sensory data, or stored representations, and that intentions may be established retrospectively. Raine takes a middle road, stating that there is a continuum from people on one end of the spectrum who have free choice or something close to that and those on the other who are regulated by biological and social abnormalities.

The Raine position is consistent with his views on biological and social causes of violence. It is also consistent with the majority position, both philosophically and legally, but it is not without significant difficulties in the light of growing information on the impacts of genetics, brain biology, and environment on decisions and actions. It could be argued that the brain acts as a rheostat for when certain thoughts or emotions well up so that the individual lacks control over his behavior. A rheostat may exist in all of us, to varying degrees, and it could be biologically driven. Even people who are without pathology or a social push might succumb to powerful inner drives operating against their control.


Critical Conceptual Problem

The insanity defense in accordance with the American Law Institute test involves both appreciating right from wrong and “conforming” behavior to the requirements of the law. “Appreciate” refers to cognitive capacity; it defines legal responsibility mostly in terms of mental capacity though the word includes elements of emotions. But the second condition, “conforming” behavior, focuses largely on emotional control. On the two rheostats, one on thinking along a spectrum from rational to irrational, and the second on emotions controlling behavior, the question remains: What scientific information, such as brain images and genetics, and at what level of abnormality, establishes a justifiable lack of rational capacity and control of behavior? Herein lies the most critical conceptual problem of the Raine’s work as it addresses the individual in the legal system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laurence R. Tancredi, MD, JD, is a professor of clinical psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. He is the author of Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality (Cambridge University Press, 2010), among other works. 

References:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Re punishment-avoidance and reward seeking behaviors: see Matsumoto M & Hikosaka O: Lateral habenula as a source of negative reward signals in dopamine neurons. Nature 447: 1111-1115 (2007); Matsumoto M & Hikosaka O: Representation of negative motivational value in the primate habenula. Nature Neuroscience 12: 77-84 (2008).
  • Re the right lateral prefrontal cortex: see Ruff CC, Ugazo G, Fehr E: Changing Social Norms Compliance with Noninvasive Brain Stimulation. Science DOI: 10:1126/science 1241399 (October 3, 2013).
  • Re degree to which the brain damage affects the subject’s behavior: For a more complete review of imaging, particularly MRI, see Tancredi LR & Brodie JD: The brain and behavior: limitations in the legal use of functional magnetic resonance imaging. In: Symposium: Brain Imaging and The Law, American Journal of Law & Medicine, Vol. 33, Nos. 2 & 3: 271-294 (2007).


 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

 

 

 

 

 

Reply by Adrian Raine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last paragraph of The Anatomy of Violence hoped for more open discussion than hitherto on the biological underpinnings of violence. I am consequently delighted and honored that Professors Laurence Tancredi and Francis Shen, leading experts in their respective fields, have risen to this challenge in their penetrating and erudite commentaries that raise important issues for further debate and discussion. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Three Important Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laurence Tancredi’s balanced and thoughtful analysis generally recognizes the key argument of the book, namely, that there is a significant body of evidence documenting — now beyond reasonable doubt — for a biological basis to violence. He goes on goes to focus on three important issues in the application of this scientific knowledge in the courtroom, a neurolegal focus that forms chapter 10 of the book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first issue is conceptual. Yes, specific brain areas have been correlated with violence and crime, but the brain is enormously complex. Tancredi appropriately highlights research on the role of the habenula in reward processing and decision-making, which I had omitted, as well as the intriguing research of Ernst Fehr’s group on the role of the right lateral prefrontal cortex in social norm compliance, published after the book’s release. We do not have a complete understanding of how specific brain regions, or even more complex neural networks, precisely contribute to understanding the complexity of violent behavior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could not agree more, and as I acknowledge in chapter 7, my own approach by necessity has been overly simplistic. We are just at the end of the beginning of mapping the neural anatomy of violence. I attempt to illustrate this complexity in trying to integrate cognitive, affective, and motor neural systems in chapter 8, but this still belies the challenge of fully understanding the brain basis to behavior, let alone implications for the legal construct of responsibility. Furthermore, I could not elaborate on neural protective factors — what beneficial processes protect an individual from an outcome of violence in the face of dysfunction to other brain areas that predispose to violence? That’s an important gap in our knowledge that Tancredi alludes to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He also points out how technical issues make clear interpretation of some functional imaging techniques difficult in the courtroom. I would again agree, but also note that these issues are diminished with structural imaging. I would also agree that imaging data cannot give us a full explanation of why someone would commit murder, and does not explain psychiatric syndromes. But do psychiatric syndromes themselves really give us a complete mechanistic answer as to why some people commit violence? I don’t think they do, yet they are influential in making decision on criminal responsibility.

The second point refers to the difficulties inherent in applying science based on groups to individual cases. I agree that we are talking about probabilities. Neurobiology is not diagnostic, and there is no one-to-one causation. Instead, risk factors raise the odds of a violence perpetration in a probabilistic fashion. But I don’t see that as a reason to not take neurobiology into account in individuals. Exculpatory factors such as psychosis and intellectual disability raise the odds of violence, but most individuals with these disorders do not commit violence. Nor do they fully explain why someone with an intellectual or clinical disorder commits an impulsive homicide. Yet we accept these conditions as exculpatory factors, so why not diminished prefrontal functioning, which contributes to the inhibition of impulsive behavior?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third issue pertains to that thorny concept of free will. Yes, we might grudgingly accept that there may be constraints on free will invoked by biological (as well as social) influences. Yet as Tancredi states: “The question remains: what scientific information, such as brain images and genetics, and at what level of abnormality establishes a justifiable lack of rational capacity and control of behavior?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t have a complete answer, although intellectual disability could be a model. Defined essentially as an IQ below 70 (two standard deviations below the mean) together with impaired social functioning, this statistically corresponds to the bottom 4-5% of the population. Could that be applied as a metric to risk factors like prefrontal dysfunction, alongside a more qualitative assessment of impaired social functioning as is done with case with intellectual disability, as a future guide to answering Tancredi’s pertinent yet vexing question on where we should objectively draw the line?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Answering Unanswered Questions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Francis Shen’s insightful and scholarly commentary both fills a gap that I neglected to address and also raises provocative questions that require a substantive answer. As with Tancredi, Shen agrees that there is now little doubt that biology contributes to violent behavior, at least in part. But there are at least two unanswered questions. Why did I leave out reference to a historically important book? And given that we have heard the same tired story before to little or no effect, should we expect any change, or are we destined to hear this broken record to be replayed again 43 years from now? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given that there are over 1,000 academic references contained in The Anatomy of Violence, why was there not one mention of Mark and Ervin’s 1970 book Violence and the Brain, a book with 616 Google citations? The honest answer? I had never read it! I had certainly heard of it, and I knew that it concerned psychosurgery. Psychosurgery was in turn a domain I never touched on, although it did cover psychopharmacology, and I now see that Mark and Ervin covered that same important topic. It is right and fitting that their important work be recognized here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a desperate rearguard action to excuse my historical ignorance, the 19th-century Lombrosian perspective, alongside Franz Gall’s phrenology, had been uppermost in my mind to highlight in the book. The earlier controversial issues of the Twinkie defense in the late 1970s, and XYY research in the 1960s, were also covered. But what had influenced me more than Mark and Ervin’s work, rightly or wrongly, was Sarnoff Mednick’s pioneering publication in Science in 1984 on the genetics of crime which I highlighted in chapter 2. Francis Shen was correct in assuming I wanted to highlight recent scientific work that is influencing current thinking, such as Caspi and Moffitt’s 2002 breakthrough publication in Science on gene-environment interactions (3,147 citations to date and counting).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever the excuses, one cannot avoid the deeper question that Shen raises. We’ve heard this weary sob story before, to little effect. Is there something to really sit up and listen to here, or is the The Anatomy of Violence only successful as a bedtime read to put you to sleep? Perhaps we should take a polite yawn and move on to something more pivotal for society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are, I believe, decided differences between 1970 and 2013 that will give us pause more for deeper thought than for deeper sleep. To answer Shen’s question, I don’t think traditional psychosurgery is the answer. It is overly simplistic and begs too many neuroethical questions. That’s perhaps one of the reasons Violence and the Brain did not make sufficient progress, even if the authors were insightful and on the right path. But I believe another reason was that Mark and Ervin in the early 1970s did not have the zeitgeist on their side, despite that rave review in Fortune magazine. At that time, biology was anathema to criminologists, who were steeped in the sociological tradition. Yet today, sociology’s lead journal is publishing work on gene-environmental interactions and violence. Times they are a changing, and while no radical changes are afoot, there are signs of a sea change in societal thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can I be wrong on this? Of course I can, as I also acknowledged in that same last paragraph of The Anatomy of Violence. I have neither all the answers, nor simple solutions. But a transformation is occurring in the public’s understanding of imaging and genetic research on real-life issues. Perhaps the accumulated body of evidence from many international scientists, together with ongoing science education to the public, might be reasons why the broad message in The Anatomy of Violence might make more progress than hitherto in how we prevent, predict, and punish offenders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neurocriminology is not going to be put to bed as easily as it was in the past —– at least not without a good fight.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adrian Raine is the Richard Perry University Professor in Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

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