Researchers say brain stimulation could reduce violent crime

Henrietta Strickland
July 5, 2018

Sex offenders may think twice about assaulting someone after brain stimulation, a new study claims.

The brain zaps targeted people's prefrontal cortex.

The researchers used an electrical current to stimulate a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex.

As the number of cases related to violence, physical and sexual assault continues to rise around the globe, an worldwide team of researchers has shown there might be a "neuroscientific" answer to the problem - zapping the brain with electric current. The first group received prefrontal cortex stimulation for 20 minutes.

"What people say they will do with regard to violence and what they actually do may be two different things", said Paul Appelbaum, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University, who was not a part of the study.

"Zapping offenders with an electrical current to fix their brains sounds like pulp fiction, but it might not be as insane as it sounds", said Adrian Raine, a neurocriminologist at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study's investigators. "This study goes some way toward documenting a causal association by showing that enhancing the prefrontal cortex puts the brakes on the impulse to act aggressively".

'Offenders have poorer functioning in the brain.

Lead researcher Olivia Choy, a criminologist who teaches in the psychology department at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said, "While this is certainly an early step in the study of tDCS and antisocial, aggressive behavior, it may inform future approaches to reducing aggressive intent and behavior through a noninvasive, relatively benign intervention that targets a biological risk factor for crime".

The process was originally developed to help people with brain injuries or psychiatric conditions like major depressive disorder.

Participants were later provided with two hypothetical scenarios revolving around physical assault (a man smashing a bottle over someone's head for getting too close to his girlfriend) and sexual assault (intimacy turning into date rape). Participants were asked to anticipate the likelihood that they would carry out the aggressive acts described in the stories.

They also rated on the same scale how morally wrong they felt the scenarios were. Those individuals that received the stimulation were 47 percent and 70 percent less likely to report being willing to commit physical and sexual violence, respectively, than those from the control group were.

Scientists have shown stimulating this area to boost its activity could reduce people's violent tendencies. "I see this coming and we need to be prepared for it". The process was to give one group of the subjects this treatment for about 20 minutes through electrodes attached to the scalp behind the top of the forehead.

The claims raised skepticism among critics who wondered if there is a treatment for an act such as sexual misconduct.

The "shocking" treatment could potentially be used to treat or prevent violent behavior, researchers say.

"We need the prefrontal cortex to make prospective judgments (about) how an action will affect us in the future - if I do this, then this bad thing will happen", Buckholtz had said in a media release issued by the university a year ago. Racial discrimination, socioeconomic status also have a role in violent behavior. "But we also believe that there's a biological contribution to crime which has been seriously neglected in the past".

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