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The Brain, Aggression & Criminal Violence

Updated on July 11, 2016

The limbic system has been directly linked to influence antisocial behavior. This part of the brain is responsible for fight or flight emotions. More specifically the amygdale is responsible for the emotion of aggression, and antisocial phenotypes, (Beaver, 2008). While the hippocampus is responsible for creating new long term memories and controlling emotion learning and fear conditioning. Next in the limbic system are the thalamus and hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls stress hormones which are responsible for regulating actions such as stress, sex, and testosterone, (Beaver, 2008).

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Stress, sex and testosterone are all emotions, chemicals or behaviors which are often associated with crime, aggression or criminal violence. The cerebral cortex, consists of two thirds of the brain, and is divided by name into four lobes.

The occipital lobe which is responsible for vision, the parietal lobe that controls motor skills, the temporal lobe that controls hearing abilities and the frontal lobe which keeps the limbic systems emotions in check are all part of the cerebral cortex. In the frontal lobe we have the prefrontal cortex which is divided into three parts, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex. All of the prefrontal parts work together to perform executive functions. These functions are responsible for controlling emotions and behavior and in criminals they are thought to be not as functional as in non-criminals, (Beaver, 2008). It has also been tested in 39 studies with antisocially classified people and proved that antisocial people scored worse in the area of executive functioning, (Morgan & Lilienfeld, 2000).

Furthermore, executive functions were proven .99 percent of the time to be genetically inherited in twin studies and not environmental factors, (Friedman et al., 2008). It has been tested and proven that murderers have lower amount of activity in their prefrontal cortexes and corpus callosum areas of the brain. Also, the amygdale and medial temporal lobes of murderers showed structural differences compared to non-murderers, (Rain et al., 1998).

In addition test of predatory murderers compared to impulse murderers showed that impulse murderers had a lower rate of activity in their prefrontal cortex and higher limbic system activity. Thus the under active prefrontal cortex would cause reduced control while the overactive limbic system would increase anger and rage, (Rain et al., 1998).

It appears that normal prefrontal cortex provides some psychopaths with the ability to escape being caught. In contrast abnormal prefrontal cortex activities in other psychopaths appear to be what got them caught, (Yang et al., 2005). Furthermore, it appears that acts of very serious criminal behavior have been shown to be genetic in nature, (Rowe, 2002). However; the environment has been shown to impact brain development which in turn affects behavior whether criminal or non-criminal, (Kolb & Whishaw, 1998). Furthermore, genes sometimes need environmental triggers in order to accommodate predisposition for criminality, (McGue, 1997). Predisposition for criminal behavior and a criminal environment do not always make a criminal, (Wright et al., 2008).

Alcohol and the damage it does to unborn Childs’ brains have been proven to have lasting harmful effects. This also has been shown to occur from nicotine and other chemicals such as lead which has shown to increase the chances of later recidivistic criminal activity, (Karr-Morse & Wiley, 1997) and (Mereu et al., 2003). Attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder are all related to resistance to disciple and increased chances of aggression, (Karr-Morse & Wiley, 1997).

It has also been found that brain damage increases antisocial personalities and these personalities often lead to criminal activity, (Piquero & Tibbetts, 1999). Brain development or the impairment of the brain can have negative cognitive affects, (Wright et al., 2008). Low activity in the central and or autonomic nervous system can lead to criminal activity, (Raine, 1993).Furthermore; neuropsychological development or the lack thereof have been found to be related to aggressive behavior and antisocial personalities, (Moffitt, 1993).

Works cited

Beaver, K. M. (2009). Biosocial criminology. A primer. Kendall hunt publishing company.

Friedman, N. P., Myake, A., Young, S. E., DeFries, J. C., Corley, R. P., & Hewitt, J. K. (2008). Individual differences in executive functions are almost entirely genetic in origin. Journal of experimental psychology, 137, 201-225.

Karr-Morse, R., & Wiley, M. S. (1997). Ghosts from the nursery: Tracing the roots of violence. New York: Atlantic monthly press.

Lolb, B., & Whishaw, I. Q. (1990). IQ: Brain plasticity and behavior. Annual review of psychology, 49, 43-64.

McGue, M. (1997). A behavioral-genetic perspective on children of alcoholics. Alcohol health and research world, 21(3), 210-217.

Mereu, G., Fa`, M., Ferraro, L., Cagiano, R., Antonelli, T., Tattoli, M., et al. (2003). Prenatal exposure to a cannabinoid agonist produces memory deficits linked to dysfunction in hippocampal long-term potentiation and glutamate release. Proceedings of the national academy of sciences, 100(8), 4915-4920.

Moffitt, T. E. (1993). The neuropsychology of conduct disorder. Development and psychopathology, 5 (1-2), 135-151.

Morgan, A. B., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2000). A meta-analytic review of the relation between antisocial behavior and neuropsychological measures of executive function. Clinical psychology review, 20, 113-136.

Piquero, A., & Tibbetts, S. (1999). The impact of pre/perinatal disturbances and disadvantaged familial environment in predicting criminal offending. Studies on crime and crime prevention, 8(1), 52-70.

Raine, A. (1993). The psychopathology of crime: Criminal behavior as a clinical disorder. San Diego, CA: Academic press.

Raine, A., Meloy, J. R., Bihrle, S., Stoddard, J., LaCasse, L., & Buchsbaum, M. S. (1998). Reduced prefrontal and increased subcortical brain functioning assessed using positron emission tomography in predatory and affective murderers. Behavioral sciences and the law, 16, 319-332.

Rowe, D. C. (2002). Biology and crime. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

Wright, J. P., Tibbets, S. G., & Daigle, L. E. (2008). Criminals in the making. Criminality across the life course.

Yang, Y., Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., LaCasse, L., & Colletti, P. (2005). Volume reduction in prefrontal gray matter in unsuccessful criminal psychopaths. Biological psychiatry, 57, 1103-1108.


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting analysis of why the mind resorts to violence.