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Violent Behavior

This interview originally aired on April 30, 2013. Twenty years ago, when brain imaging made it possible for researchers to study the minds of violent criminals and compare them to the brain imaging of "normal" people, a whole new field of research — neurocriminology — opened up. Adrian Raine was the first person to conduct a brain imaging study on murderers and has since continued to study the brains of violent criminals and psychopaths. His research has convinced him that while there is a social and environmental element to violent behavior, there's another side of the coin, and that side is biology. "Just as there's a biological basis for schizophrenia and anxiety disorders and depression, I'm saying here there's a biological basis also to recidivistic violent offending," Raine, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. Raine says this re-visioning of violent criminals could potentially help direct how we approach crime prevention and rehabilitation. "I think prisoners ... [are] not motivated to change, really," he says, " ... because they just think they're a bad, evil person. If we reconceptualized recidivistic crime as a criminal disorder, would we make them more amenable to treatment?" The key question that preoccupies Raine, however, is that of punishment and the question of the death penalty. "Simply put," he says, "if bad brains do cause bad behavior, if brain dysfunction raises the odds that somebody will become a criminal offender — a violent offender — and if the causes of the brain dysfunction come relatively early in life ... should we fully hold that adult individual responsible?" "I've got to be careful here. There's no destiny here. Biology is not destiny, and it's more than biology, and there's lots of factors that we're talking about there, and one factor like prefrontal dysfunction or low heart rate doesn't make you a criminal offender. But what if all the boxes were checked? What if you had birth complications and you were exposed to toxins and you had a low resting heart rate and you had the gene that raises the odds of violence, et cetera, et cetera, stuff happening early on in life. I mean, you're not responsible for that. Then how in the name of justice can we really hold that individual as responsible as we do ... and punish them as much as we do — including death?" #FullPodcastAvailable #Podcasts


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