intellectual vanities… about close to everything

You Shouldn’t Have: Brain And Crime

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In a pioneering, interdisciplinary study combining law and neuroscience, researchers at Vanderbilt University peered inside people’s minds to watch how the brain thinks about crime and punishment.

When someone is accused of committing a crime, it is the responsibility of impartial third parties, generally jurors and judges, to determine if that person is guilty and, if so, how much he or she should be punished. But how does one’s brain actually make these decisions? The researchers found that two distinct areas of the brain assess guilt and decide penalty.

This work is the joint effort of Owen Jones, professor of law and of biology, and René Marois, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology. Together with neuroscience graduate student Joshua Buckholtz, they scanned the brains of subjects with a highly sensitive technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI. Their goal was to see how the brain was activated when a person judged whether or not someone should be punished for a harmful act and how severely the individual should be punished.

During the study, the participant inside the fMRI scanner read scenarios on a computer screen, each describing a person committing an arguably criminal act that varied in harmfulness. With every scenario that appeared, the participant determined how severely to punish the scenario’s protagonist on a scale of 0 (no punishment) to nine (extreme punishment). Sometimes there were extenuating circumstances or background information about why the person acted as he did. Was he coerced? Did he feel threatened? Was he mentally ill?

“We were looking for brain activity reflecting how people reason about the differences in the scenarios,” said Jones.

The researchers found that activity in an analytic part of the brain, known as the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, tracked the decision of whether or not a person deserved to be punished but, intriguingly, appeared relatively insensitive to deciding how much to punish. By contrast, the activity in brain regions involved in processing emotions, such as the amygdala, tracked how much subjects decided to punish.

“These results raise the possibility that emotional responses to criminal acts may represent a gauge for assessing deserved punishment,” said Marois.

“There are long-running debates about the proper roles in law of ‘cold’ analysis and ‘hot’ emotion,” said Jones. “Our results suggest that, in normal punishment decisions, the distinct neural circuitries of both processes may be jointly involved, but separately deployed.”

Another intriguing result of the study was that the part of the brain that third-party subjects used to determine guilt in this study was the same brain area that has previously been found to be involved in punishing unfair economic behavior in two-party interactions.

“The convergence of findings between second-party and third-party punishment studies suggests that impartial legal decision-making may not be fundamentally different from the reasoning used in deciding to punish those who have harmed us personally,” said Marois.

Neuron, Volume 60, Issue 5, 738-740, 10 December 2008 Preview

doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2008.11.019

You Shouldn’t Have: Your Brain on Others’ Crimes

Johannes Haushofer
Summary

Our legal system requires assigning responsibility for crimes and deciding on appropriate punishments. A new fMRI study by Buckholtz etal. in this issue of Neuron reveals that the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC) plays a key role in these cognitive processes. This finding sheds light on the neural mechanisms underlying moral judgment from a third-party perspective.

Written by huehueteotl

December 12, 2008 at 8:58 am

Posted in Neuroscience

One Response

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  1. When you apply for a job online, you get contacted by a person and if the matter progresses, you eventually get to see people face to face to determine your suitability for the position.
    However, the laws regarding cybercrimes show a near lack of understanding that the cyber arena and the “real time” world are INEXTRICABLY ENTWINED!!

    I strongly believe that Crimes committed online should be subjected to the burden of proof as determined by the weight those crimes have or could cause to people as they operate in real time. The nexus is undeniable yet the laws do not reflect these connections.

    I have been CYBERSTALKED, ILLEGALLY WIRETAPPED, HARASSED, TAUNTED AND HORRIFICALLY ABUSED BY A MAD MAN. A SOCIOPATH ONLINE AND SO FAR, HE IS ABLE TO CONTINUE HIS VICIOUS ACTS AGAINST ME ON ACCOUNT OF THE NEBULOUS STATE OF THE LAW.

    THIS MAN RECORDS MY CONVERSATIONS AND SOMETIMES, BOLDLY DISPLAYS THEM SOMETIMES USING INNUENDO AND CYBER LINGO AS USED BY CYBERSTALKERS AND PUNKS OF THIS SORT AND YET TO TRIGGER AN INVESTIGATION OF THREATS BY THESE CYBER TERRORISTS IS A DIFFICULT AND SLOW PROCESS.

    CYBERCRIMINALITY is the growing frontier of criminality against women and children and unless something is done to educate and inform EVERYONE about the issues– and get law enforcement active in apprehending offenders–the situation will become uncontrollable.

    I have been stunned at the lack of knowledge of the tools available to cyberoffenders which they can use in real time to stalk, track, molest and kill those they target and yet very little education has been provided in general on the matter so STALKERS like this mad man are left to lure and stalk victims on his NUMEROUS BLOGS without fear or retribution for a prolonged period.

    Please read my blog http://saynotocyberharassment.wordpress.com/

    saynotocyberharassment

    December 12, 2008 at 7:44 pm


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