Topic: Neurophysiological factors that can lead to crime.
IntroductionResearch conducted over the past couple of decades has repeatedly illustrated the link between the brain and behavioral disorders, between genetic variation and antisocial behavioral patterns, and the interplay between biological characteristics and environmental influences in understanding and explaining human behavior (Beaver, 2009). Interestingly, criminological literature incorporating or examining such discoveries from other scientific fields, such as psychology, psychiatry, genetics, and biology, has been largely nonexistent until recent years, with biosocial examinations of antisocial and criminal behavior only beginning to emerge (Beaver, 2009).The primary reason further research analyzing the biological and genetic basis of behavior and differences among individuals has been stagnant lies in the ethical concerns surrounding the possible abuse of such information, much like the utilization of selective phrenology and other supposedly scientific methods that were used to establish moral hierarchies between races and sexes in the past (Hatemi & McDermott, 2011).
Biosocial criminologists are quick to point out that such concerns are an overreaction. The advocating of unethical eugenic measures is not the focus of biosocial criminology, and instead experts in the field focus on the improvement of the environment in an effort to increase the likelihood of healthy biological development throughout the early stages of the life course (Rocque, Welsh, & Raine, 2012). In effect, biosocial criminology provides for the study and use of crime prevention strategies instead of reactionary criminal justice strategies (Rocque et al.
, 2012).Beginning with an examination of what the field of biosocial criminology encompasses, the primary focus for this paper will be the healthy development of the brain from conception through childhood. The final section will explore policies and practices that have already been shown to reduce antisocial and criminal behaviors as a result of influences from the biological sciences before delving into recommendations on future biosocial policies and programs derived from this emerging field.
Biosocial CriminologyWright and Cullen (2012) describe biosocial criminology as a paradigm instead of as a theoretical perspective; the conceptualization of such a thought requires an understanding of the notion that biosocial criminology includes theoretical perspectives that are informed by biological research. In essence, biosocial criminology can be thought of as a field of study that includes that of traditional criminological thinking, but also includes open-mindedness about, and acceptance of, the ways in which genetic factors affect individual behaviors and the subsequent expression of those factors within social settings. For example, an individual’s genetic makeup affects their body’s ability to produce or break down neurotransmitters within the brain (i.e. serotonin, dopamine, etc.
), and studies of aggressive behavior have linked manifestations of aggression to abnormal levels of dopamine and serotonin (Beaver, 2009). From such an example, biosocialResearch MethodsMuch of the biosocial criminology literature is derived from studies incorporating methods used by behavioral geneticists, such as twin-based research studies, adoption studies, and family studies (Beaver, 2009). In addition, technological advancements have made it possible to study the brain in ways never before thought possible. For example, Raine (2013) was the first criminologist to utilize brain-imaging technology to study the structural and functional differences in the brain, analyzing a sample of forty- one murderers in California in 1994 in his groundbreaking study.
Using positron- emission tomography (PET) scans, Raine was able to measure metabolic activity in various regions of the brain simultaneously, with higher rates of metabolic processes occurring in those regions of the brain that were most active during the cognitive tasks assigned (Raine, 2013). Using a matched sample of controls, Raine (2013) discovered that murderers showed similar levels of metabolic activity to the controls in the occipital cortex (i.e., their vision was working perfectly) and significantly lower levels of metabolic activity in the prefrontal cortex after performing the cognitive tasks; in other words, the murderers’ prefrontal cortices were functioning poorly. Brain Structure and Functioning:Theoretical Background In order to understand how variations in brain structure and functioning affect behavior, it is first important to examine the structures and known functions of regions of the brain, the neurotransmitters involved in normal brain functioning, and the effect of certain neurotransmitters on behavior.
Before proceeding, however, a word of caution is in order: some of the conclusions currently accepted are still preliminary, and subsequently are not well established (Wright, Tibbetts, & Daigle, 2008). The limbic system of the brain, which is comprised of the amygdala, an almond- shaped emotion and partial memory center, and hippocampus, the primary memory center, is the section of the brain believed to be the most relevant in the formation of emotional responses and feelings related to survival (i.e. the fight or flight response) and social responses (such as jealousy and anger) (Wright, Tibbetts, & Daigle, 2008ConclusionUtilizing a multifaceted approach to target protective factors in neuropsychological and developmental health, in addition to increasing public awareness of biosocial influences on behavior, are the core components of the policy recommendations outlined herein as the basis for the proposed SHIELD Program.
Building such a strategic, focused program draws heavily on concepts shown to be successful through existing programs, like the Nurse-Family Partnership and Perry Preschool project, while simultaneously taking into account findings from studies in behavioral genetics, psychology, education, and criminology. In addition, the recommendations outlined in the proposed SHIELD Program align with the three primary ways in which biosocial risk factors are able to be targeted by preventive strategies according to Beaver (2009): the education of parents, and especially pregnant mothers, about the importance of a healthy pregnancy, the provision of adequate prenatal healthcare for parents, and the provision of postnatal education and support of new parents in understanding the risk and protective factors identified as influential during early childhood development. Similarly, the components of the SHIELD Program align with the policy implications suggested by Barnes (2014): the elimination of environmental toxins, such as lead, the improvement of pre- and postnatal care for children, and targeted interventions for high-risk individuals through school-based educational programs.