SALT LAKE CITY — What if you could know when a criminal would likely commit a crime, well before hand?
We're not quite there yet, but we're moving in that direction. Neuroscientists from the Mind Research Network have conducted a study of almost 100 released prisoners showing that they can predict whether some of them will be re-arrested or not.
The researchers, led by Kent Kiehl, performed a functional MRI scan on the male prisoners at the time of their release, looking specifically at the anterior cingulate cortex, an area at the front of the brain that is involved in decision making. They were required to quickly decide whether they were seeing an X or a K on a computer screen.
What they found is those with a lower level of activity in the ACC while performing the task were more likely to be re-arrested within the next four years. Sixty percent of those with lower levels of ACC activity were arrested, but only 46 percent of those with normal ACC levels were.
That means that among those samples, the men in the lower half of the ACC levels were re-arrested 2.6 times more for all crimes, and were 4.3 times higher to be arrested for non-violent crimes. That is after factoring in complicated mitigating circumstances like age and drug abuse.
The technique is not a perfect predictor of future crime, and can't tell us anything about an individual's behavior — only about groups of people. But it does push us further in the direction of being able to predict specific behaviors.
The results were published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.