CRIMINAL BRAINS

Author: Ceren Özceyran, Phase 5 Student and member of Hacettepe SIGN 2020-2021, January 2021

Firstly, we begin with definition of psychopathy. Psychopathy is a mental antisocial disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, shows a lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships like empathy, expresses extreme egocentricity, and demonstrates a failure to learn from experience and other behaviors associated with the condition. It begins in childhood and persisting into adulthood. 1 In this blog post, I have reviewed some articles related with the differences in brain anatomy and the conclusion of this for criminal psychopaths.

Criminal psychopaths’ brains have some differences from the brain of a noncriminal person. Their brain hemispheres are less lateralized than non-criminals. As a consequence of that, the incidence of non-righthandedness (NRH) is higher in criminal than non-criminal populations. NRH is not a pathological situation; however, elevated NRH may be the conclusion of a developmental/central nervous system disorder.Still, NRH should not be used as a marker of criminality. 4

Lombroso who was an Italian criminologist, who lived between the years of 1835 and 1909. He had a general theory regarding differences between the physical traits of criminal and noncriminal people. Lombroso’s thesis suggested that criminals were distinguished from non-criminals by multiple physical anomalies. He was convinced of the ‘born criminal’ theory. In the opinion of being born a criminal; a criminal could be identified by their anatomical configurations. These include a sloping forehead, ears of unusual size, asymmetry of the face, excessive length of arms, asymmetry of the cranium…5

Current research shows that some structural anomalies associated with the brains of some criminal offenders can be provable with imaging tests. Criminal psychopaths’ brains have atypical structural asymmetries, with reduced right hemisphere grey and white matter volumes, and abnormal interhemispheric connectivity. Functional asymmetries are also atypical, with criminal psychopaths showing a less lateralized cortical response than non-criminals across verbal, visuo-spatial and emotional tasks.2 According to the definition of psychopathy, this structural and functional variation could be associated with antisocial behaviors and a lack of empathy. 

In the ‘criminal brain’, right superior temporal gyrus that plays a crucial role in both empathy and theory of mind may remain under the sway of a pathological condition. Diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DT-MRI) tractography shows reduced white matter in the right uncinate fasciculus of criminal psychopaths, suggesting abnormal connections in the frontal-limbic networks. Poorer structural integrity was associated with higher levels of antisocial behavior.1 In 1966, Charles Withman had headaches and knew there was something wrong in his brain.  On August 1, he killed his wife, mother and 14 bystanders and shot 43 people unexpectedly. He was named as the ‘Texas Tower Sniper’. At his autopsy, a pecan or walnut-sized glioblastoma multiform tumor was seen in the right temporal lobe. Location of tumor was associated with processing memories, making decisions and controlling emotions.6

Yang, Raine, Colletti, Toga and Narr also found reduced grey matter thickness in the right frontal lobe of a psychopath compared to the brains of non-psychopathic controls. In 1991, Herbert Weinstein, a 65-year-old with no prior history of violence, strangled his wife after an argument, and then threw her body from a window to make her death appear like a suicide. On a structural MRI scan, he was found to have a large cyst in the left frontal lobe, with associated hypometabolism in the cortex adjacent to the cyst on FDG-PET. 7

Tendency to crime can be related with anatomical structure of brain and also synaptic transmissions, neurotransmitters. For more details, you can investigate the references. Thank you!

REFERENCES

  1. Henry R. Hermann, Chapter 9 – Alternate Human Behavior, Editor(s): Henry R. Hermann, Dominance and Aggression in Humans and Other Animals, Academic Press, 2017, Pages 139-157, ISBN 9780128053720,
  2. Priscilla Savopoulos , Annukka K Lindell , Born criminal? Differences in structural, functional and behavioural lateralization between criminals and noncriminals, a Department of Psychology and Counselling, School of Psychology and Public Health , La Trobe University , Melbourne , Australia. PMID: 29447065 DOI: 10.1080/1357650X.2018.1432631
  3. Lee Ellis, Chapter 17 Left- and Mixed-Handedness and Criminality: Explanations for a Probable Relationship, Editor(s): Stanley Coren, Advances in Psychology, North-Holland, Volume 67, 1990, Pages 485-507, ISSN 0166-4115, ISBN 9780444884381
  4. Anthony F. Bogaert, Handedness, criminality, and sexual offending, Neuropsychologia, Volume 39, Issue 5, 2001, Pages 465-469, ISSN 0028-3932
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cesare_Lombroso
  6. Matthew Mcdaniel, THE TOWER SHOOTINGS: Autopsy revealed tumor, but questions linger, Standard-Times, july 2016
  7. R. Ryan Darby, Neuroimaging Abnormalities in Neurological Patients with Criminal Behavior, # Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018
  8. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/24214929/herbert-weinstein