The relationship between brain function and criminal activity is an area of huge controversy and debate from scientific, legal and philosophical perspectives. Essentially the key issues here are these: does brain dysfunction lead to criminal behaviour and, if so, what does this mean in terms of offenders’ culpability?
It is advances in research technologies, such as the development of more sophisticated brain-scanning techniques, which have begun to provide the evidence that has stimulated this debate. Increasing numbers of studies are suggesting that individuals who have committed, often violent, crime may have differences in the structure or functioning of their brain. These differences could, it is argued, lead to their aberrant behaviour.
Many studies have shown, for example, that injury to the frontal lobes of the brain may be related to criminal behaviour. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), studies have shown that this part of the brain is responsible for abilities in self control, planning and judgement. This is supported by studies such as that by Damasio and Damasio (1999) which showed that individuals with damage to the ventromedial frontal cortex developed abnormal social conduct. (see here for more information on this: http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/content/10/3/295.full)
When you consider that this is also the part of the brain that is most influenced by alcohol you may get some idea of how injury here may lead to changes in behaviour.
One of many other examples here is the work of Blair (2008) which suggests that it is impairments in the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex that leads to the development of psychopathy. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2606709/
The problem always is, though, that of causality. We know that many serial killers had, or reported they had, suffered frontal lobe injury in their past. But many, many more people suffering frontal lobe injury have never committed an offence in their lives. Establishing direct links between dysfunction and behaviour is never easy but at the same time is something that has massive implications in legal terms. The debate around ‘neurolaw’ of how, and when, brain dysfunction might be admissible as mitigation for behaviour is one that continues to rage.
So the bottom line here is that we have more and more evidence which suggests that links between the brain and crime do exist. But how direct and strong these relationships are is always open to question.
I have posted some links below which relate to these debates and which you can read to further your research on this issue and perhaps inform your own thoughts about this complex relationship. I hope these are of help.
Do people, or their brains, commit crimes? An interesting blog post on the issues surrounding this debate is here: http://www.dictionaryofneurology.com/2012/01/peoplenot-brains.html
Can science predict criminal behaviour? More on this controversy in this article http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/current/2011-03-24/research/can-science-predict-criminal-behavior
Crime as a brain disorder: Did his brain make him a killer? Short article with interesting points here. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/200912/crime-brain-disorder
The Brain on the Stand: a fascinating article on the neurolaw debate from the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/11/magazine/11Neurolaw.t.html?pagewanted=all
Inside A Psychopath’s Brain: The Sentencing Debate. More on the controversial neurolaw debate here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128116806
A Mind of Crime: How brain-scanning technology is redefining criminal culpability. http://www.miller-mccune.com/legal-affairs/a-mind-of-crime-8440/
fMRI Evidence Used in Murder Sentencing. Interesting media article on this controversial issue http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2009/11/fmri-evidence-u.html
Could Brain Scans ID Potential Criminals? http://news.discovery.com/human/could-brain-scans-be-used-to-id-criminals.html
When Rage Explodes, Brain Damage May Be the Cause. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/08/07/science/when-rage-explodes-brain-damage-may-be-the-cause.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
Video of an interesting online media seminar here: The Criminal Brain: How, Could and Should We Change It? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzGfZaI6itg