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The Biological Roots of Crime

by Adrian Raine

Pub Date: April 30th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-37884-2
Publisher: Pantheon

Neurocriminologist Raine (Criminology, Psychiatry and Psychology/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Crime and Schizophrenia, 2006, etc.) asserts that “revolutionary advances into brain imaging are opening a new window in the biological basis of crime.”

The author emphasizes the importance of biology, along with environment, in shaping the individual. He reprises genetic evidence of a predisposition to criminal behavior and the identification of polymorphisms of genes controlling enzymes that regulate neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Brain scans and autopsies show physiological differences in the structure of different regions of the brain, possible effects of brain damage incurred during birth or before as a result of the environment within the womb or from subsequent child abuse. These correlate with a history of violence and different criminal behaviors, making it possible to differentiate the brains of impulsive killers from those of serial killers. Studies of psychopaths show dampened activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that normally alerts us to danger, and signs of stress, such as perspiring, are absent. Individuals with this psychophysiology are not primarily motivated by risk avoidance but by the rewards. “Different biological, psychological, and social risk factors can interact in shaping either violence or self-sacrificing heroism,” writes the author, who makes the controversial conclusion that despite considerations of civil liberties, as neurocriminology develops over the next few decades, preventative incarceration will become an increasingly attractive option. Underlying Raine's presentation is his stated conviction that socially ameliorative measures in dealing with a rising tide of crime will prove ineffective.

While Raine explicitly rules out any notion that biology is destiny, and the implication that criminologists such as himself are modern-day eugenicists, his questionable political conclusions are sure to be controversial, especially in the context of the current debate on guns and the prevention of violence.