University of Pennsylvania
Neuroethics Publications Center for Cognitive Neuroscience
Psychopathy and instrumental aggression:
Evolutionary, neurobiological, and legal
Andrea L. Glenn
University of Pennsylvania, email@example.com
University of Pennsylvania, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea L. Glenn, Adrian Raine, "Psychopathy and instrumental aggression: Evolutionary, neurobiological, and legal perspectives." International
Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Volume 32, Issue 4, Aggression, Science, and the Law: New Insights from Neuroscience, July-August 2009, Pages
253-258, ISSN 0160-2527, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.04.002.
This paper is posted at ScholarlyCommons.http://repository.upenn.edu/neuroethics_pubs/50
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International Jounal of Law and Psychiatry 32(2009) 253-258
Psychopathy and instrumental aggression: Evolutionary, neurobiological,
and legal perspectives
Andrea L. Glenn *, Adrian Raine
Departmentof PsycllOlogy. Universityof Pennsylvania. 3720 Walnut Stree~ Philadelphia. PA 19104. USA
In the study of aggression. psychopathy
involves aggression which is premeditated.
more serious types of offenses. Such instrumental
resources such as money. or to gain status). Unlike the primarily
disorders, psychopaths appear to engage in aggressive acts for the purpose of benefiting themselves. This is
especially interesting in light of arguments that psychopathy may represent an alternative life-history strategy
that is evolutionarilyadaptive; behaviors such as aggression, risk-taking,
sexual behavior observed in psychopathy may be means by which psychopaths
Recent neurobiologicalresearch supports the idea that abnormalities
morality may allow psychopathsto pursue such a strategy-psychopaths
emotiohs such as empathy, guilt, and remorse that typically discourage instrumentally
even experience pleasure when committingthese acts. Findings from brain imaging studies of psychopaths
may have important implications for the law.
emotionless. and instrumental
a disorder that is of particular interest because it often
in nature; this is especially true for
is aimed at achieving a goal (e.g.. to obtain
reactive aggressionobserved in other
gain advantage over others.
in brain regions key to emotion and
may not experience
aggressive acts, and may
Psychopathy is a disorder involving a pronounced
remorse. and empathy (Hare, 2003). Psychopaths
impervious to the distress of others. They also lack fear of negative
consequences of risky or criminal behavior and demonstrate
tivity to punishment (Patrick, 1994). In addition, psychopaths
often described as superficially charming, glib, manipulative, conning,
and grandiose (Cleckley, 1941); they are often able to take advantage
of others because they first present as likeable and well-meaning.
However, these individuals often display severe aggression and high
rates of criminalrecidivism (Hare, 2003),
psychopathy an especially important
lack of guilt,
are said to be
making the study of
issue for the criminal justice
2. Psychopathy and instrumental aggression
A unique feature of psychopathy is that it is associated with an
increased risk for instrumental aggression (Blair,2007b ).lnstrumental
aggression, also referred to as proactive or predatory aggression, is
controlled, purposeful, and used to achieve a desired external goal
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author. Jerry Lee Center of Criminology, University of Pennsylvania.
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(e.g., to obtain money or drugs). Injury to others is typically secondary
to the acquisition of some other goal. Instrumental aggression tends to
be premeditated and is not preceded by a strong emotional reaction.
In other disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, increases
in aggression tend to be relatively more reactive in nature. Reactive
aggression is impulsive and emotion-driven acts in response to threat
or provocation (e.g.. in the context of a heated argument)
1988, 1997). The classification of individuals or acts as reactively and
instrumentally aggressive is not mutually exclusive - individuals may
engage in both types of aggression, and singular acts may contain
elements of both types of aggression.
demonstrate reactive aggression in addition to instrumental
sion (Flight & Forth, 2007; Hare, 2003; Reidy, Zeichner, Miller, &
Martinez, 2007);however, it is their proneness
aggression that may distinguish them from other antisocial indivi-
duals, and may have the most serious implications.
Several studies have demonstrated
more likely to engage in predatory violence, while non-psychopathic
violent criminals are more likely to engage in reactive violence
(Meloy, 1988, 1995; Serin, 1991; Williamson, Hare, & Wong, 1987).
This is especially true for what are typically considered more serious
types of offenses, such as serious sexual assault or homicide. Less
serious offenses, such as theft or burglary, are likely to be committed
at similar rates by non-psychopathic
(1987) examined characteristicsof violent offenses and found that
psychopathic offenders were much.more motivated by material gain
or revenge (45.2% of violent acts) than non-psychopathic
that psychopathic criminals are
individuals. Williamson et al.
ficial charm, manipulativeness,
(Facet 2), including a lack of guilt and empathy, blunted emotions,
and callousness; Impulsive Lifestyle (Facet 3), including stimulation-
seeking and impulsivity; and Antisocial (Facet 4), including criminal
behavior(Hare, 2003).Some studies
aggression to be more strongly associated with the lnterpersonal/
Affective factor of psychopathy, whereas reactive aggression demon-
strates stronger relationships with the lmpulsive/ Antisocial features.
Woodworth and Porter (2002) found significant relations for both
psychopathy factors with instrumental
correlations revealed a unique relationship only with the Interperso-
nal/ Affective factor. Porter, Birt, and Boer (2001) found that psycho-
pathic murders scored higher on the Interpersonal/Affective
whereasnon-psychopathic murders showed higher scores on the
lmpulsive/ Antisocial factor. In adolescent offenders, the Interperso-
nal/ Affective factor, but not the Lifestyle/Antisocial factor, was found
to be associated with increased likelihood of instrumental
(Flight & Forth, 2007). Similarly, in incarcerated youth with psycho-
pathic traits, the interpersonal facet was found to relate most strongly
to instrumental violence (Vitacco, Newmann, Caldwell, Leistico, & Van
Rybroek, 2006). In male undergraduates,
that instrumentalaggression on a laboratory aggression task was
uniquely related to the Interpersonal/Affective
In contrast, reactive aggression
lnterpersonal/ Affective factor and the Impulsive Lifestyle/Antisocial
factor. Together these studies suggest that instrumental aggression is
not exclusivelyrelated to the Interpersonal/Affective
psychopathy, but is more strongly associated with that factor.
A notable feature of the instrumental aggression of psychopaths is
that the ultimate goal is for personal gain. Woodworth
(2002) provide an example of one psychopathic inmate who carefully
planned and murdered his wife in order to benefit financially from her
insurance policy. Psychopaths have been described as individuals who
prey on others across the lifespan (Hare, 1998). The use of aggression
to serve a selfish function could be thought of as evidence for the idea
that psychopathy is an evolutionarily adaptive strategy.
and pathological lying; Affective
have found instrumental
aggression; however, partial
Reidy et al. (2007) found
factor of psychopathy.
withwas associated both the
A.L Glenn,A. Raine/ International journal of Law and Psychiarry 32 (2009) 253-258
(14.6%of violent acts). Furthermore, psychopaths were less likely to
have experienced emotional arousal during their crimes than non-
psychopaths (2.4%compared to 31.7%of violent acts). Woodworth &
Porter (2002)found that psychopathic
twice as likely to have committed primarily instrumental
as non-psychopathic offenders. In fact, 93.3%of homicides committed
by psychopathic offenders were instrumental in nature, compared with
48%of those by non-psychopathic offenders; again, psychopaths were
found to rarely commit violent crimes under intense emotional arousal.
Cornell et al. (1996) found that offenders who had committed at least
one act of instrumental violence were more psychopathic, specifically
with respect to pathological lying, manipulativeness, superficiality, lack
of empathy, exhibiting a parasitic lifestyle, irresponsibility, and criminal
versatility. In addition, instrumental
violent criminal behavior. A higher proportion
who were classified as instrumentally
psychopathic compared to spousal abusers classified as being reactively
aggressive (Chase. O'Leary,& Keyman, 2001). Based on these studies. it
appears that violent aggression committed by psychopathic individuals
is more likely to be instrumental in nature.
There is some evidence that psychopathic traits in non-incarcerated
populations may also be associated with increased instances of un-
provoked aggression. Ina study by Nouvion,Cherek.Lane,Tcheremissine,
and Lieving (2007), subjects recruited from a large, urban community
participated in a laboratory-based computer task that involved opportu-
nities to subtract points from a partner in provoked and unprovoked
conditions. Participants were classified as instrumental, reactive only, or
nonaggressive. The study found that individuals who demonstrated
instrumental aggression scored higher in psychopathy than individuals in
the other two groups (nonaggressive and reactive only). However, it
should be noted that the instrumental group may have also exhibited
reactive aggression; this was not measured. In a different study, Rilling
et at.(2007) examined the behavior ofundergraduates playing an iterated
Prisoner's Dilemma game, in which a player has the option to cooperate
with a partner to earn money, or to defect. and attempt to benefit at the
partners expense. Undergraduates scoring higher on a psychopathy
measure were more likely to disrupt patters of mutual cooperation by
defecting; such unprovoked defection allowed these individuals to earn
money at the expense of their partner and could be viewed as a form of
instrumental aggression. These studies provide some evidence that
variation in psychopathic traits within community samples may also be
associated quantifiable increases in instrumentally aggressive acts.
Several studies of youth with psychopathic traits have also found
increased rates of instrumental aggression. Adolescent offenders who
had committed instrumentally motivated violence were found to score
higher in psychopathic traits (Loper, Hoffschmidt, & Ash, 2001).
Similarly, instrumentality of prior violence was significantly correlated
with psychopathy scores in another group of adolescent offenders
(Murrie, Cornell, Kaplan, McConville, & Levy-Elkon,2004). Kruh, Frick,
and Clements (2005) found that young adults with any history of
unprovoked violence had higher psychopathy scores than participants
who had a history of reactive violence only. Finally, delinquent
adolescents who had engaged in prior instrumental
significantly higher in psychopathy
significantly associated with the amount of instrumental violence ofan
individual (Flight & Forth, 2007). However, it should be emphasized
that psychopathy scores were also associated with increased reactive
aggression. These studies suggest that instrumental
evident in youth with psychopathic traits, and therefore may result
from factors early in life.
Psychopathy is comprised of a constellation of features which have
been grouped into two inter-related
personal and affective features, and a second describing the impulsive
and antisocial features (Hare, 2003). These factors can be further
divided into four subfacets: Interpersonal (Facet 1). including super-
individuals were about
of spousal abusers
aggressive were found to be
than those classified as never
scores were found to be
factors, one describing inter-
3. Psychopathy as an evolutionary strategy
represents an alternative evolutionary strategy consisting primarily of
"cheating" behaviors (Barr & Quinsey, 2004; Crawford & Salmon,
2002;Mealey, 1995; Raine, 1993). In this view, the emotional,
cognitive, and behavioralfeatures
specified, organized mechanisms which facilitated a viable reproduc-
tive social strategy during human evolutionary history (Crawford &
Salmon, 2002). Instrumentallyaggressive behaviors
theft, rape, and homicide are all means by which psychopaths may
cheat, taking advantage of others in order to gain status, resources,
and to pass on genes with minimal effort (Raine, 1993). Psychopathic
traits such as glibness and superficial charm may allow them to take
advantageof others throughmanipulation
evidence suggests thatpsychopaths
fitness by pursuing a strategy involving early and high mating effort
partners. Psychopathy has been associated with an increased number
of sexual partners (Halpern, Campbell, Agnew, Thompson, & Udry,
2002; Lalumiere & Quinsey, 1996), engaging in sexual behavior at an
earlier age (Harris, Rice, Hilton, Lalumiere, & Quinsey. 2007), an
uncommitted approach to mating. increased mating effort and sexual
coercion (Lalumiere & Quinsey, 1996), many short marital relation-
ships, sexual promiscuity (Hare, 2003), and poor performance
parents (Cleckley, 1976).
At low frequencies in the population, psychopaths may be able to
successfully maintain cheating as an evolutionarily adaptive strategy.
Harpending and Sobus (1987) used game theory research to show
have explored the idea that psychopathy
of psychopaths are seen as
A.L Glenn.A Raine / International journal of Law and Psychiarry 32 (2009) 253-258
that cheaters can achieve reproductive success when they are difficult
to detect, are highly mobile, are verbally facile, and are skilled at
persuading females to mate. Many of the features of the personality of
psychopaths seem to describe characteristics that would be important
in pursuing an evolutionary strategy of cheating. Being manipulative,
conning, and glib, not experiencing empathy, guilt, or remorse, being
risk-taking and sensation seeking, and engaging in instrumental, goal-
directed aggression are all ways that psychopaths may gain advantage.
Successfully pursuing a strategy that primarily involves cheating
behavior may require one or both ofthe following elements: (1) a lack
of emotionsthat normally guide moral behavior
2006b) and (2) reward or pleasure from causing harm to others
(Porter & Woodworth, 2006). Regarding the first element, without the
experience of emotions such as guilt or remorse, psychopaths may
easily engage in aggressive or manipulative behaviors with little fear
or concern for potential consequences. They may be less hindered by
concern for the pain and distress that their actions cause others, and
thus able to employ strategies
themselves. Woodworth and Porter (2002) suggested that the high
rates of instrumentalhomicides committed by psychopaths may be
due to a lack of empathy, which serves as a deterrent for instrumental
violence. In support of this, Flight and Forth (2007) found that scores
on a measure of empathy were lower in delinquent adolescents who
had engaged in instrumental violence; these scores accounted for 12%
of the variance in instrumental violence.
Regarding the second element, psychopaths may also be driven to
engage in instrumentalbehavior because of the pleasure that they
take in causing others to suffer. Ithas been suggested that psychopaths
may derive gratification or enjoyment from their violent behavior, and
may be driven by thrill seeking or sadistic
Woodworth, 2006). In a study of psychopathy
aggression used by homicidal offenders during the crime, Porter,
Woodworth, Earle, Drugge, and Boer (2003) examined both gratui-
tous violence,definedas excessive
necessary to complete the homicide, and sadistic violence, defined
as evidence of enjoyment or pleasure from the violence. Homicides
committed by psychopaths showed higher levels of both gratuitous
and sadistic violence. Further evidence of a link between sadism and
psychopathy comes from a study by Holt, Meloy, and Strack (1999)
showingthat psychopathy is associated
personality traits. There is also evidence of increased rates of sexual
aggression in psychopaths;psychopathy
associated with an increased risk for sexual violence (Kosson, Kelly,
& White, 1997). Both adolescent and adult sexual homicide offenders
have been found to have moderate
(Meloy, 2000; Myers & Blashfield, 1997). Some evidence suggests that
the violence of psychopaths may reflect thrill seeking
psychopathy has been associated with more severe violence in the
commission of sexual offenses (Gretton, McBride, Hare, O'Shaugnessy,
& Kumka, 2001) and the targeting
suggesting that they do not specialize in the way that paraphilic
offenders do (Porter et aI., 2000), but rather may take advantage of
opportunities as they arise. Finally, there
psychopathicdemonstrate sexual arousal
suggesting they may be more likely to derive pleasure from the
suffering of others.
Recent neurobiological research is beginning to support the idea
that psychopaths may not experience emotions that typically serve to
guide morally appropriate behavior
differences have been observed in brain regions key to emotion and
morality(Raine and Yang, 2006a). Although less neurobiological
research has been done to examine pleasure as a motivation for the
criminal behavior of psychopaths,
support this hypothesis.This research
(Raine & Yang,
thatmaximizethe benefits for
and the types of
violencebeyond the level
with increased sadistic
has been found to be
to high rates of psychopathy
of a wider range of victims,
is also evidence
- structuraland functional
a few studies are beginning to
will be discussed in the
4. The neurobiology of psychopathy
The evolution of moral behavior has shaped the functioning of
several neural structures (Moll, de Oliveira-Souza, & Eslinger, 2003).
Recent brain imaging studies have begun to explore the neural
correlates of moral decision-making
Darley, & Cohen, 2004; Harenski & Hamann, 2006; Moll et aI.,2003;
Robertson et a!., 2007). Many of the structures identified appear to
also be associated with psychopathy (Raine & Yang,2006a). One such
area is the prefrontal cortex, specifically the orbitofrontal region. In
moral decision-making, the orbitofrontal cortex may be important in
integrating moral knowledge with emotional cues (Moll, Oliveira-
Sousa, Bramati, & Grafman, 2002). understanding
et al., 2006), and inhibiting antisocial impulses
(Brower & Price, 2001). Yang et at. (2005) found a 22.3%reduction in
prefrontalgray matter in a group
convictions. Functional brain imaging studies have observed reduced
activity associated with psychopathy in the orbitofrontal region of the
prefrontal cortex during fear conditioning
Viet et aI.,2002) and during a socially interactive game (Rilling et aI.,
2007). Lesion studies have demonstrated
orbitofrontal cortex often leads to several psychopathic
istics, includingpathological lying, irresponsibility,
sexual behavior, shallow affect. and a lack of guilt or remorse
(Anderson, Bechara, Damasio, Tranel, & Damasio, 1999). Regarding
aggression, it appears that abnormalities
may primarily contribute to the increases in reactive aggression that
have been observed in psychopathy, as it has not been associated with
increased instrumental aggression (Blair, 2007b).
Abnormal structure and functioning in the prefrontal cortex has
not been observed in all studies of psychopathic or instrumentally
aggressive individuals. In a study of predatory
affective murderers, Raine et al. (1998) found that prefrontal glucose
metabolism of predatory murders was similar to controls, whereas
prefrontalmetabolism in affective
reduced. They suggest that predatory
prefrontal functioning to be able to regulate their impulses and
carefully plan their crimes. Yang et al. (2005) found that individuals
who were psychopathic but had not received prior convictions had
similar volumes of the prefrontal cortex to controls, whereas those
withprior conviction, as noted
prefrontal gray matter. Although both studies measured the prefrontal
cortex as a whole, and did not distinguish subregions, it appears that
some psychopathic individuals may exhibit good prefrontal function-
ing that allows them to carefully plan crimes and avoid being caught.
Further evidence comes from several functional imaging studies
that have observed increased activation specifically in the dorsolateral
region of the prefrontalcortex in psychopaths
involve emotional processing (Gordon, 2004; lntrator et aI., 1997;
Kiehl et aI.,2001; Rilling et aI.,2007). As the dorsolateral cortex is an
area involvedin higher cognition,
psychopaths may use more cognitive resources to process affective
information than non-psychopaths
In subcortical regions, brain imaging studies of psychopathy have
revealed structural and functional abnormalities
Reduced volume of the amygdala has been reported in a study of
psychopathic individuals (Yang, Raine, Narr, Lencz, & Toga, 2006). In
several fMRI studies, reduced activity in the amygdala has been
associated with psychopathyduring the processing of emotional
stimuli (Kiehl et aI.,2001), during fear conditioning (Birbaumer et aI.,
2005; Viet et aI., 2002), during an affect recognition task (Gordon,
2004). and during a socially interactive game (Rilling et aI., 2007).
Psychopathy was also found to be associated with reduced amygdala
functioning during moral decision-making
dilemmas (Glenn, Raine, & Schug, 2009). It has been suggested that
reduced functioning of the amygdala may be most likely to contribute
(e.g., Greene, Nystrom, Engell,
the emotional states
of psychopathswith prior
(Birbaumer et aI., 2005;
that early damage to the
in the orbitofrontal cortex
may have good
during tasks that
it has beensuggested that
(Kiehl et aI., 2001).
in the amygdala.
about emotional moral
painful situations. The authors suggest that the activity observed in
this reward-related region may indicate that these individuals enjoy
seeing victims in pain. This, in concert with reduced amygdala and
ventromedialprefrontal cortex functioning, may contribute to their
aggressive behavior. Structurally, increased volume of the striatum or
its subregions has been observed in men with antisocial personality
disorder(Barkataki, Kumari, Das, Taylor, & Sharma, 2006)
adolescents and adults with aggressive behavior (Amen, Stubblefield,
Carmichael, & Thisted, 1996). Future research on the structure and
function of the striatumin psychopathy
determine whether this may be a region that may contribute to the
pleasure-drivenmotivations of psychopaths.
specifically is needed to
AL Glenn, A. Raine / Internationaljournalof Law and Psychiarry 32 (2009) 253-258
to the increased risk for instrumental
(Blair, 2007b). The amygdala is crucial in the formation of stimulus-
reinforcement associations, which are important in fear conditioning
and may be particularly relevant to socializing children so that they
learn to avoid actions that might harm others (Blair, 2007a). Without
having learned these associations, psychopathic individuals may be
undeterred from engaging in acts that benefit themselves
expense of others.
Inaddition to the amygdala, abnormalities have also been observed
in other subcortical regions such as the hippocampus. Laakso et at.
(2001) found psychopathy to be negatively correlated with the volume
of the posterior hippocampus. Raine et al. (2004) found abnormal
convictions. Hippocampal dysfunction may result in affect dysregula-
tion, poor contextualfear conditioning,
predicting capture (Raine et aI., 2004). The hippocampus
interconnections to both the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which
are also implicated in psychopathy, so it may have an effect on and be
affected by the functioning in these structures.
Other areas that have been implicated in psychopathy include the
anterior and posterior cingulate and the angular gyrus. Reduced
functioning in the anterior cingulate has been observed in psychopaths
during fear conditioning(Birbaumer et aI., 2005; Viet et aI., 2002),
during an affective memory task (Kiehl et aI., 2001), and during the
processing of emotional information (Muller et aI.,2003). The anterior
cingulate is closely connected with the amygdala and is involved in
emotional processing. Reduced functioning of the posterior cingulate
has also been observed in psychopaths during an affective memory
task (Kiehl et aI., 2001). The posterior cingulate may be important in
the recall of emotional memories (Maratos, Dolan, Morris, Henson, &
Rugg, 2001), the experience of emotion (Mayberg et aI., 1999), and
self-referencing (Johnson et aI., 2006). Deficits in the angular gyrus
(Le., posterior superior temporal gyrus) have been found in psycho-
pathic and antisocialindividuals
task (Kiehl et at., 2004); it has been suggested that the angular
gyrus is important in complex social cognition and linking emotional
experiences to moral appraisals (Moll, Oliveira-Souza, Eslinger, 2002).
Because the left angular gyrus it is also involved in reading and
arithmetic, impairments in this region may help account for the poorer
school and occupational failure of antisocial and psychopathic indi-
viduals (Raine et aI.,1997).
Finally, a structural imaging study by Raine et at. (2003) found
increased volume of the corpus callosum in psychopathic individuals.
The corpus callosum is the major connection
hemispheres. Recently, Hiatt and Newman (2007) found that the time
required to transfer information from one hemisphere to the other is
significantly prolonged in criminal psychopaths compared to criminal
non-psychopaths. This effect was more pronounced in right-handed
response conditions, which are controlled by the left hemisphere. They
suggest that impaired connectivity between hemispheres may cause
functions primarily mediated by the left hemisphere
behavior and language processing) to be relatively unmodulated
functions mediated predominantly
behavioral inhibition and emotion processing) and vice versa (Hiatt &
Regarding the associationbetween
motivated crime, there is some initial neurobiological research that
may suggest that antisocial individuals may demonstrate
activity in the striatum, a brain region associated
processing. Despite its association with reward-seeking
sivity, the striatum has received very little attention in the study of
antisocial behavior, and has not been the focus of any psychopathy
study to date. Perhaps the most notable piece of evidence is a recent
study by Decety, Michalska, Akitsuki, and Lahey (2009), in which
adolescents with aggressive conduct disorder demonstrated increased
activity in the striatum when viewing images of other individuals in
aggression in psychopathy
in psychopathswith prior
and insensitivityto cues
during a semanticprocessing
by the right hemisphere (e.g.,
psychopathy and reward-
Taken together, neurobiological evidence suggests that there are
differences in the brainsof psychopaths
individuals, particularlyin regions that are important
moral behavior.Reduced functioning
generating emotions such as fear, guilt, and empathy may mean that
psychopaths are undeterred from harming others to gain advantage.
At the same time, increased functioning in regions associated with
reward may lead psychopaths to take pleasure in causing harm to
others. In addition, learning based on both reward and punishment
information may be disrupted, which may impair socialization.
Although psychopathic individuals have typically been found to be
insensitive to treatmentattempts,
abnormalities observed in psychopathy may provide new possibilities
for future treatment. One possibility may be to try to alter the
functioning of some of the brain regions implicated in psychopathy,
such as the amygdala or striatum. This may be accomplished either
pharmacologically, by focusing on hormone
systems, or behaviorally through therapy. Another method that has
been shown to directly alter brain functioning is repetitive transcra-
nial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a noninvasive technique that is
used to stimulate the brain using strong, pulsed magnetic fields. Initial
evidence has shown this method to be effective in altering the brain
functioning and subsequent behavior of depressed patients (Schutter
& van Honk, 2006). A similar technique may prove to be effective in
altering the brain functioning of psychopathic individuals.
Neurobiological evidence, in combination with other risk factors,
may eventually be able to aid in the identification of individuals who
are at significant risk for future criminal behavior, which could have
important implications for prevention and treatment.
children with neurobiological abnormalities
treatment programs designed to prevent antisocial behavior. How-
ever. the identification of individuals based on brain abnormalities
carries with it many ethical issues; there are dangers of harm caused
by labeling, miscategorization, and the potential misuse of such infor-
mation to limit the freedoms of some individuals. Although neuro-
biological research has great potential to help with the prevention of
crime. careful considerations should be taken regarding the use of
The source of most of the neurobiological abnormalities discussed
above is unknown, and may result from genetic, developmental,
environmental factors. Research into the causes of such abnormalities
has tremendous potential for possible intervention methods. Changes
to the early environment may be able to prevent abnormalities from
developing. In addition, early knowledge of genetic risk factors for
criminal behavior may allow caretakers to take special measures to
reduce the instances of other risk factors to aggression, as it is often
the combination of both biological and social risk factors that produce
the most risk for aggression (Raine, 2002).
Findings that psychopathic individuals may demonstrate
biological abnormalities in regions that are important
appropriate moral behavior present a new set of challenges to the
important in regionsin
research on the neurobiological
could be enteredinto
AL Glenn. A Raine I International journal of Law and Psychiarry 32 (2009) 253-258
criminal justice system. If psychopaths
observed by reduced activation in areas important in moral decision-
making, are they to blame for their actions? Advances in neuroscience
that have raised such ethical issues have resulted in the development
of a new field termed "neuroethics"
points out that we would not blame Phineus Gage for his bad behavior
resulting from physical damage to his ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Ifwe can detect differences in the brains of psychopathic individuals,
would this not be analogous to excusing the behavior of Gage?
We would argue that neurobiological
considered risk factors for antisocial behavior, similar to evidence
from any other biological, psychological, or psychosocial source, but
should not be over-interpretedas representing
relationship with behavior. Anabnormality in a particular brain region
does not imply that the abnormality
behavior or crime. Rather, it should be taken into consideration as one
of many factors, biological or social, that may increase an individual's
risk for criminal behavior. However, given the present state of research
in this area, the applicability of neurobiological findings to individual
cases is very limited.Currently,
psychopathy involve examining differences between groups - the
findings represent the average of many individuals and do not suggest
that all psychopathic individuals exhibit a particular abnormality.
Thus, applying this type of research on an individual case basis may be
difficult to achieve reliably. It is this type of information that should be
emphasized by scientists taking part in legal cases in order to ensure
that brain imaging evidence is not over-interpreted
At some point in the future it may be possible to build up normative
datasets so that significant differences in brain structure or function-
ing could be quantifiable, increasing the potential for use in courts.
Brain imaging evidence has already been implemented in over 130
court cases (Feigenson, 2006) and its use is likely to continue. Mobbs,
Lau,Jones, and Frith (2007) have outlined some of the limitations to
the use of brain imaging courts: first, brain imaging cannot tell what a
person was thinking at the time of an action; second, information
about brain functioning represents
regarding influences on behavior; third, the interpretation
scans on an individual basis is subjective and individually variable;
and finally, brain imaging evidence currently lacks diagnostic and
predictive validity. In addition, Mobbs et al. and others (e.g. Farah,
2004) warn that the use of brain images in the courtroom may be too
influential for jurors, who may view the brightly colored images as
more accurate and objective than they actually are. Although these are
limitations that should be taken into consideration,
evidence, when presented appropriately, may still be able to provide
extremely valuable information
imaging evidence may have implications
insanity defense, determining criminal intent, detecting deception by
witnesses or defendants, or in determining
punishments such as the death penalty. However, a high level of
communicationbetween scientists and legal officials will be impor-
tant in integrating findings from brain imaging research into the way
society views, and deals with, criminal behavior.
lack a core moral sense, as
(Marcus, 2002). Farah (2005)
impairments should be
a causal, one-to-one
was the cause of a specific
the neurobiologicalstudies of
in these settings.
only one source of information
in some cases. Ultimately, brain
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