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Crime Science

Brain Scans Predict Which Criminals Are More Likely To Re-offend 187

Posted by Soulskill
from the computer-says-you-are-not-yet-rehabilitated dept.
ananyo writes "In a twist that evokes the dystopian science fiction of writer Philip K. Dick, neuroscientists have found a way to predict whether convicted felons are likely to commit crimes again from looking at their brain scans. Convicts showing low activity in a brain region associated with decision-making and action are more likely to be arrested again, and sooner. The researchers studied a group of 96 male prisoners just before their release. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the prisoners' brains during computer tasks in which subjects had to make quick decisions and inhibit impulsive reactions. The scans focused on activity in a section of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a small region in the front of the brain involved in motor control and executive functioning. The researchers then followed the ex-convicts for four years to see how they fared. Among the subjects of the study, men who had lower ACC activity during the quick-decision tasks were more likely to be arrested again after getting out of prison, even after the researchers accounted for other risk factors such as age, drug and alcohol abuse and psychopathic traits."
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Brain Scans Predict Which Criminals Are More Likely To Re-offend

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  • by rmdashrf (1338183) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:13PM (#43283261)
    Now let's first use it on our politicians.
    • by geekmux (1040042)

      Now let's first use it on our politicians.

      That would imply that they were not above the law to begin with.

      It would also imply that We the People still have control to do anything about it, regardless of the test results.

      (hint: We don't.)

      • Re:Good technology (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:31PM (#43283485)

        We have the power, it's just that when half of Americans vote for people promising to bring the government to the knees, you don't wind up with the best or the brightest being elected.

        Which is strange, I would have thought voting for people looking to screw up the government would be just the ticket for effective and useful governance. Who'dathunk.

        • by FooAtWFU (699187)

          We have the power, it's just that when half of Americans vote for people promising to bring the government to the knees, you don't wind up with the best or the brightest being elected.

          Could be worse. These "best and brightest" could have been elected and run amok. Oh, wait, that was 2008. ;)

          No seriously though, one man's "bring the government to its knees" is another's "bring spending back in line with sane levels more similar to (population-adjusted) 2007 levels instead of keeping it at 50% above that

          • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @06:45PM (#43286851)

            Not really, you bring spending back in line by a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The party that's knows that is coincidentally not the party that's promising to bring the government to its knees.

            As for 2007 levels, are you fucking serious? We had massive spending during the 2001-2007 period and no tax increases to pay for it. Cutting spending to that level would be ridiculous as there was a ton of waste at that point. To get things to sane levels, we need to have a combination of tax cuts and tax increases.

            Just because you have a lot of welfare states that don't want to accept cuts to their things, doesn't make it any more true. These politicians aren't promising cuts to bring things back under control, they're trying to get cuts to kill programs they don't like, even though their districts aren't actually contributint their fair shares and the spending that they are OK with is of no use to most people.

        • by epyT-R (613989)

          Yeah, because, historically, our government officials, like the ones using our taxes to fund these badly correlated behavior 'studies', are bastions of rationality, justice, objectivity, and truth. Naturally these selfless, caring, freedom loving people want only the best for us when they say they absolutely 'have' to grow the budget deficit every damn year, punch legal holes in documents designed to protect our rights, and then tell us the reasons and details are a matter of 'national security.'

          I really d

    • by rwise2112 (648849)

      Now let's first use it on our politicians.

      Why? We already know.

    • Re:Good technology (Score:5, Informative)

      by gnasher719 (869701) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @02:26PM (#43284107)

      Now let's first use it on our politicians.

      Totally misunderstanding what this is about.

      There's a bit in your brain that tells you "don't do this, this is a bad idea" when you want to do something that is a bad idea. That bit usually stops you from getting into trouble. It will stop you from smacking your boss in the face if he upsets you, which tends to be a bad idea. It will stop you from smashing a car window and grabbing things on the seat. It will stop you from doing things that hurt you (in the end), including any badly planned crime. People where this bit of the brain is underdeveloped tend to do stupid things, including re-offending after getting out of jail and getting caught.

      On the other hand, criminals of any kind who carefully plan what they are doing are not affected by this. They also tend to get caught less often.

      • Attention governmental bureaucrats: Take a deep breath. Listen to that little voice inside your head that tells you not to react impulsively... we'll call this the consequences and repercussions identity. Law enforcement, aided and abetted by doctors and psychologists, has attempted to classify "the criminal type" for many generations. Despite theories prevalent at various times, crime has not been predictable using physiognomy, eugenics, or social Darwinism. Crime is a characteristic of human nature t
    • by Ch_Omega (532549)

      Now let's first use it on our politicians.

      Thats actually not a bad idea, considering that previous research [newscientist.com] has found support for a link between degree of activity in amugdala and the anterior cingulate cortex, and wether or not people will keep their promises.

      • by Ch_Omega (532549)
        *amygdala.
      • Except that a lot of people who keep or don't keep their promises as politicians have to contend with 400 other politicians who also want to keep their promises. And when one politician says "I will cut taxes!" and another promises "I will fund social security!" You can't have both keep their promises.

        • by Ch_Omega (532549)

          Except that a lot of people who keep or don't keep their promises as politicians have to contend with 400 other politicians who also want to keep their promises. And when one politician says "I will cut taxes!" and another promises "I will fund social security!" You can't have both keep their promises.

          And this is also something that politicians (hopefully) know. I contend that making promises that you know there is a big chance you won't be able to keep, even though it's because external reasons, is just as bad as making promises you don't intend to keep in the first place.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So do you focus all your Rehab efforts on activities that stimulate this region of the brain, or only parole prisoners that show high activitiy in the area?

    • by characterZer0 (138196) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:17PM (#43283335)

      You use this test as an excuse to keep certain people in jail for political reasons.

      • by geekmux (1040042) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:28PM (#43283463)

        You use this test as an excuse to keep certain people in jail for political reasons.

        So, let me get this straight...you're going to continue to incarcerate me, for something I might do in the future?

        Believe me, I'm not questioning whether this would actually happen or not. We've proven corruption knows no bounds.

        I'm merely pointing out the "minor" issues with this concept, regardless of where our Rights have dissolved away.

        • "I'm merely pointing out the "minor" issues with this concept, regardless of where our Rights have dissolved away."

          Not only would legislating nearly anything based on this border on Thought Crime, it would reflect ignorance of the basic principle that statistics do not reveal anything about individual cases.

          • Oh don't be silly. This isn't thought crime. It's pre-thought crime. The criminal hasn't even thought about committing the crime and he's already guilty!

            • Flavoring the jury...and it works! A century ago, we'd have heard about how the bumps on a person's head determined their personality / criminal disposition...and here it is again, in a new form! What wonders humanity dreams up! One side always working to erase labels and tear down walls, the other side working to build them up again and invent new labels! Who's on the right side, who's on the wrong side...it changes daily, and I never know who's going to be pushed out of the group next!

              Oh Humanity, you are

          • New York State already has laws to keep some sex offenders incarcerated after they serve their sentences.

        • Well it basically happens here in Minnesota with sex offenders. After they have finished their jail or prison term they get them committed to a mental institution because they might offend again. This has been held up the courts as this is a civil commitment and not a criminal one even though the individual does not wish to be held. Thus no ex post facto or double jeopardy things preventing this. As they are convicted sex offenders no one really wants to remedy the problem and no politician will touch the i
      • by kjs3 (601225)
        Look at the big brain on characterZer0. I couldn't mod up...sorry
      • Regardless of whether this is a bad idea or not, how is keeping someone who fails this test incarcerated "political"? It seems to me that if the test is the basis for parole or release, that's the opposite of political. That's based on science. Whether it's based on good science is another question, but it's certainly not based on, "Keeping you locked up will look good to my voters", or "Giving you early release will look good to my [other] voters".
      • Hehe. Got it one. A little manual 'calibration' of the machine, or perhaps some careful slips of the results...and voila, your average political protester is now a career criminal, with no chance for an appeal!

        One of the simpler tricks, of course, will be to simply take a brain scan from a known mass murderer before 'taking a scan' of the person of political interest...old tricks are the best tricks, right?

    • Both, to be honest. There still needs to be a continuity of treatment throughout the CJ system, from incarceration through re-entry.

      These scans, if accurate, will simply be another tool in the toolbox. Various assessments (old-school interview style) regarding decision-making skills are already being used. This would add another measurement tool to the mix.

      Decision-making skills play a significant role, but there are plenty of other factors that help to reduce recidivism rates, such as anti-social belief

      • by RatPh!nk (216977)

        Decision-making skills play a significant role, but there are plenty of other factors that help to reduce recidivism rates, such as anti-social belief systems, mental health, criminal companions, etc

        which according to the article were controlled for.......Doesn't mean it is perfect, but it is less of a confounding variable then you may think.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:15PM (#43283295)
    Does the more impulsive decision-making mean they're more likely to commit new crimes, or simply more likely to get caught?
    • So that should even selection bias
      • by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @02:28PM (#43284127)

        They're measuring re-arrest, not recidivism (committing new crimes). There is a difference: not all who commit crimes get arrested, and not all who get arrested have committed a crime. One of the key principles in _How to Lie with Statistics_ (excellent book) was the following:

        1. Discover that you don't have data to support a desire finding (in this case, that we can predict who will re-commit crimes)
        2. Provide data that supports some other finding instead (in this case, re-arrest rate)
        3. Pretend there is no difference between your desired finding and your actual finding
        4. ...

        5. Profit!
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Does the more impulsive decision-making mean they're more likely to commit new crimes, or simply more likely to get caught?

      And how is this impulsive decision-making different between committing crimes or other impuslive behavior (like going shopping for bananas and coming how with four bags of groceries?)

      • by fyngyrz (762201)

        You are assuming the purpose of the criminal justice system is to catch criminals. It isn't. It is to keep the jails full.

        That's why they tune release in such a way as to maximize the likelihood of going back as soon as possible. The criminal becomes unemployable in any upwardly mobile capacity, everything from insurance rates to participation in social programs are altered by this "status." So if you still want nice things... and who doesn't, especially after months or years of privation... it's pretty obv

    • That wouldn't mean it was useless though. Identifying dumb recidivists would still have some advantages over not identifying either, even if it was biased that way.

      However, that in combination with another bias mentioned in TFA does make me think this technique is bad news

      Men who were in the lower half of the ACC activity ranking had a 2.6-fold higher rate of rearrest for all crimes and a 4.3-fold higher rate for nonviolent crimes.

      Emphasis added. So it's more effective at identifying dumb drug dealers who are going to re-offend. But we lock way too many of those up already. I think law enforcement needs to be focused a lot more on violent criminals, and less

      • Men who were in the lower half of the ACC activity ranking had a 2.6-fold higher rate of rearrest for all crimes and a 4.3-fold higher rate for nonviolent crimes.

        My math may be off, but I don't think it is higher for violent offenders, if I'm reading this sentence right.

        Rate * normal for non-violent offenders = 4.3
        Rate * normal for all offenders = 2.6
        Rate * normal for violent offenders = X


        (4.3 + X )/2 = 2.6
        4.3 + X = 5.2
        X = 5.2 - 4.3

        X = 0.9

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          Your math is off. You're subtracting non-like percentages. It is not possible to know the rate for violent offenders without knowing what percentage of "all offenders" are violent.

          Unless, of course, that detail is covered in the actual article.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Non-violent crime isn't just drug dealers. In fact, that is probably the least likely to be affected by differences in impulse suppression. One of the major functions of the ACC is to suppress impulses, particularly in situations where you have previously learned that acting on those impulses is harmful. But you don't become a drug dealer just because you stumble upon a drug dealer and suddenly getting the urge to do that. It is a conscious decision that involves planning, networking, etc.

        The non-viole

    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      I'd say a precursor to getting caught is committing a crime.
    • by plover (150551)

      Does that particular bias matter? Are you thinking they're detecting "stupidity" or "carelessness" instead of "criminal tendencies"? The end result doesn't have to explain the path, although it's nice when it does.

      What I think might be more interesting in is the nature of the crime vs. the mapping of activity. Are they violent criminals? Drug offenders? Insider traders? Political dissidents? I should think that each would have a different type of response: drug offenders might be react due to addict

      • by fyngyrz (762201)

        the internal smug certainty of being "right" regarding their "just" cause;

        Hmmm. Like a... slashdot moderator!

  • Brain discrimination (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:17PM (#43283333) Homepage Journal

    It's not illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their brain activity. Should it be? Can you judge someone on the basis of their biology? Is it really that person's fault anymore if a part of their body predelects them to wrongdoing? Where does liability start? Can you fix people? Should you?

    Too many questions about really understanding the brain that our primitive moral system could begin to address.

    • Odds are this would be used on people who have already committed a crime, like determining if parole is granted. I'd argue it's still discrimination if you're saying "Past history AND biology," but the issue is murkier than you're presenting it. I think it's unlikely anyone would say "lets start locking up or watching people who haven't committed any crimes based solely on brain scans."
      • I bet if the brain scan identified people with pedophilia people would. We've already established that we're (as a society) ok with locking up people who think about children that way, even if they've never touched a child in their lives.

        • And if there was a brain scan that identified homosexuals there would be churches that pushed parents to "have their children tested".

          But I like to have faith in democracy and that the majority would abstain from such behavior.

        • Rape of grown (or otherwise) victims is a deplorable act, but punishing people who possess the willpower to resist their basest antisocial urges is the first step to a society of thought criminals. It's an easy sell because everyone hates a pedophile. Rights are traditionally stripped from all of us for patriotism, freedom, safety, the children, etc.....insert your own buzzword here. Malice in the heart often stays there.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Everything is based on your brain activity. You own actions that come from brain activity can also alter it. Meaning doing more and more impulsive things can make you more impulsive. Since you conditioned your brain to be this way why not hold it against you?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      If you talk to a psychiatrist specializing in Psychosomatic medicine [wikipedia.org] they will tell you being a better person is a simple matter of will. If you want to be a good person you will be. The brain will fix itself. Mind over matter.

      As a patient to one of these in a system full of them, I approve this message
    • One step away from Gattaca.

      • Closer, really. Brain measurements incorporate nurture in some ways.

        • Fair point. Gattaca was just about genetics. In neurological theory, nurture can shape the function of the brain. It is a larger picture of a person's thought process and capabilities.

          But what really matters, is having a fMRI ordered by a court a violation of your 5th amendment rights?

    • Phrenology returns with a vengeance for the public to swallow along with a variety of cancer curing [quackwatch.com] pseudoscience [skepticum.com]!
    • It's not illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their brain activity. Should it be?

      I think that's too big of a blanket statement. Leaves out too many details. It's not as simple as that. See below.

      Can you judge someone on the basis of their biology?

      Well, yes, I can personally judge people based on whatever I damn well feel like. Yay liberty. But if I were to, say, hire someone based on their biology, specifically whether or not they have blond hair, or an Y chromosome, or hadn't hit menopause, or had grey hair, or you know, other biological stuff, sometimes that could land you with a big fat law-suit for discrimination. And rightly so. Oth

  • Operation Mindcrime is in effect.

  • Generally unaccountable agencies, able to predict with unknown precision that an individual might, at some point in the future, commit another crime? How could this possibly not end well?
  • Brain Scans Predict Which Criminals Are More Likely To Be Caught Re-offending
  • by Lucas123 (935744) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:34PM (#43283511) Homepage
    According to a 2011 Pew study, more than 40 percent of ex-cons commit crimes within three years of their release and wind up back behind bars. As reported on BBC Radio in 2005, the recidivism rates for released prisoners in the U.S. is 60% compared with 50% in the United Kingdom. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of nearly 300,000 prisoners released in 15 states in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years. A study of prisoners released in 1983 estimated 62.5%. In general, U.S. prisons offer very little to inmates that would keep them from repeating crimes once they're released. Perhaps we should rethink this strategy?
    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @01:42PM (#43283587)

      We also make it near impossible for those recently incarcerated to find work. Just try to get a non-shit job with a felony record. No wonder they go back to crime, you have to pay the bills somehow.

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        While it is understandable that people wouldn't want to hire felons, particularly violent ones, this is a very good point. It begins a downward spiral of one bad choice ending your ability to return to society even after "serving your time". Your "time" is not over if you can't get a job afterward.

        Of course, the problem is that these criminals may suffer from something that even true remorse may not be sufficient to overcome: violently impulsive behavior. Until someone figures out how to deal with that,

    • by plover (150551)

      OK, there are two paths to reconsider. First, we could lock them up for a shorter period of time, saving the ongoing costs of longer incarceration, but incurring the costs of additional recidivism, (harm to the public, capture, trials, and future incarceration) which we know will be at least 62.5% of them. Or we could lock them up for longer periods of time, reducing their ability to re-offend, and saving the costs of extra offenses, which would include public harm, capture, and trials.

      Of the two strategi

      • by gnasher719 (869701) on Tuesday March 26, 2013 @02:34PM (#43284221)

        Of the two strategies, the second seems better backed by numbers. The sharp dip in the crime rate from the later 1990s through the 2000s is thought to be due to much longer sentences being handed down to violent criminals starting in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Incarceration costs are up, but public harm is down. Spend money, get benefit.

        I read it was due to abortion becoming much more acceptable, which led to fewer kids being born into a bad family situation that would eventually lead to criminal behaviour.

        • by H0p313ss (811249)

          Of the two strategies, the second seems better backed by numbers. The sharp dip in the crime rate from the later 1990s through the 2000s is thought to be due to much longer sentences being handed down to violent criminals starting in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Incarceration costs are up, but public harm is down. Spend money, get benefit.

          I read it was due to abortion becoming much more acceptable, which led to fewer kids being born into a bad family situation that would eventually lead to criminal behaviour.

          Voluntary eugenics?

        • And I heard the reduction in crime was caused by banning lead from gasoline. Excessive quantities of lead have been proven to make people more violent. The fact of the matter is that it is difficult to know exactly why it happened, but I know of studies that claim to have proven the reduction was caused by banning leaded gasoline and I have never heard of any studies even finding a correlation with the acceptance of abortion.
  • Lethal Eliminator mode engaged, trigger unlocked.

    • I love you. The Sybil system...*shudders*...imperfection magnified.

      I mean, on one hand, it's fascinating...the idea that enough eccentric / psychopathic minds acting in unison can average things out. On the other hand, for set of waves that cancel, there are also a set of waves that magnify, when overlapped. 'Tis just an anime series...but it's interesting that the original author left that out...or perhaps that's the error that the Sybil system can't account for...the one it produces by its mere existence.

  • As far as I can tell from what I have seen, when it comes to being arrested or not, what you got caught doing matters, but your attitude matters too. So ability to think fast and inihibit impulses? Would that maybe include the impulse to blurt out confessions? The impulse to tell the cop what you really think about him "helping you" by confiscating that joint?

    I know a few people that got more trouble than they deserved because they couldn't keep their mouths shut, and conversely those who, in almost identic

  • We all know that phrenology is more reliable!

  • Everything from Minority Report seems to be coming true: first we get the idiotic vertical touch UI, now apparently pre-crime detection is here. Does this mean I'm FINALLY going to get my flying car?

    • by fyngyrz (762201)

      No, but it does bring one step closer: The cops showing up at your door with a warrant without the precursor of you actually committing a crime.

      "Sir, the TSA took this brain scan on your last trip to Seattle; at the time, you were under the metric, but the legislature has since changed the metric and applied it retroactively. You'll have to come with us."

  • The one thing that society badly needs, is more white collar workers,
    such as bankers, convicted as criminals, where society pays for their
    transgressions.

    Up till then, research such as this is class warfare.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      I'd have to disagree. Research such as this could be extremely useful. The problem you are referring to is the fact that we are not also investigating the cause of white collar crime. I'm not sure that is true, but I agree that all crime needs to be investigated and the reasons for it eliminated to the greatest degree that we can ethically do so.

      However, in the end, whether or not we stop white collar criminals, stopping "blue collar" criminals would also be very useful as well. Unless you are suggestin

  • Essentially, they found that individuals with poor impulse-control are more likely to get arrested.

    Let me break out the Champagne... oh wait, people already knew that poor impulse-control was at the root of most criminality... and we also already knew that the ACC was involved in impulse-control... I guess we now know that A and B = (A and B).

  • FTA: Had to read the article to get this:

    Men who were in the lower half of the ACC activity ranking had a 2.6-fold higher rate of rearrest for all crimes and a 4.3-fold higher rate for nonviolent crimes.

  • psychopass - ubiquitous scanners connected to a master system can tell if a person's "criminal coefficient" is high enough to warrant therapy, being institutionalized or needing summary execution.

  • Couldn't the fact that we take criminals and put them in a giant cage with all of the other criminals and then forget about them for decades have something to do with recidivists?

"Morality is one thing. Ratings are everything." - A Network 23 executive on "Max Headroom"

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