New research reveals brain differences in youth who commit homicide

May 30, 2014
A computerized image of a patient undergoing a brain scan at the Mind Research Network. Credit: Steve Carr

A new study conducted by The Mind Research Network (MRN) in Albuquerque found that youth 12 to 18 who commit homicide have very different brains than other serious juvenile offenders who have not committed a homicide.

The findings of the study, "Abnormal Brain Structure in Youth Who Commit Homicide," are published in the peer-review journal NeuroImage: Clinical. MRN researchers applied sophisticated machine-learning techniques to MRI scans of adolescent offenders and were able to tell with an 81-percent rate of accuracy which brains belonged to youths who had committed versus other . The structural differences in included reduced gray matter in the medial and lateral temporal lobes including the hippocampus and posterior insula. The temporal lobe regions are involved in emotional processing and regulating impulses.

Dr. Kent Kiehl of MRN, senior author of the study, said these findings have serious implications for understanding some of the root brain problems that could lead youth to cross a line and commit violent crime.

"As policymakers grapple with the high societal, human, and budgetary costs of violent crime and incarceration among young people, it is within the power of neuroscience to help understand the brain abnormalities involved," Kiehl said. "Then we can create medicine and behavioral therapies to reduce the likelihood of these violent crimes, or in a perfect world, prevent these crimes from happening at all. It is my hope that these findings will lead to the ability to better understand at-risk kids before they commit homicide and put them on a different and productive path."

This research is the first serious neuroscientific study to examine brain differences in youth who commit homicide. Specifically, researchers compared the brains of 20 male adolescents who committed homicide and were incarcerated in a maximum security juvenile facility with the brains of 135 who have not committed homicide but were also incarcerated in a maximum-security facility. The study included two additional control groups to help isolate and verify the forensic findings.

Explore further: Youth homicide rate hits lowest mark in 30 years

More information: L.M. Cope, E. Ermer, L.M. Gaudet, V.R. Steele, A.L. Eckhardt, M.R. Arbabshirani, M.F. Caldwell, V.D. Calhoun, K.A. Kiehl, "Abnormal brain structure in youth who commit homicide," NeuroImage: Clinical, Volume 4, 2014, Pages 800-807, ISSN 2213-1582, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2014.05.002.

Related Stories

Access to guns increases risk of suicide, homicide

January 20, 2014

Someone with access to firearms is three times more likely to commit suicide and nearly twice as likely to be the victim of a homicide as someone who does not have access, according to a comprehensive review of the scientific ...

Recommended for you

For health and happiness, share good news

January 22, 2017

Service members, including both active and recently separated, have been called upon to fight overseas and to assist during natural disasters at home. They can face unique challenges when they return in both the workplace ...

The great unknown—risk-taking behaviour in adolescents

January 19, 2017

Adolescents are more likely to ignore information that could prompt them to rethink risky decisions. This may explain why information campaigns on risky behaviors such as drug abuse tend to have only limited success. These ...

Mandarin makes you more musical?

January 18, 2017

Mandarin makes you more musical - and at a much earlier age than previously thought. That's the suggestion of a new study from the University of California San Diego. But hold on there, overachiever parents, don't' rush just ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Osiris1
4 / 5 (1) Jun 16, 2014
Ok, then give all children eight years old MRI scans; and if these anomalies are present, then the affected individuals are known to the state as murder prone. Insurance companies should know this so prospective employers, especially any post office, should be warned lest the person 'go postal'.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.