Can the tendency for criminally psychopathic behaviors be identified by analyzing neurological images? If so, what consequence does this have for science and society?
Psychopaths are everywhere—an estimated 1 in 100 adults qualify. Most are nonviolent but not all: One subset of this group, criminal psychopaths, have aggressive and sometimes-violent tendencies and often fail to exhibit empathy or remorse despite knowing the difference between right and wrong. Many of them commit crimes and end up in jail. In an opportunistic twist of science and justice, these jailed criminal psychopaths provide a unique chance for researchers to study their brains, and there now exists enough reproducible neurobiological data to investigate the connection between brain structure and criminal behavior. Science writer Haycock argues that it is possible to identify physical differences between the brains of psychopaths and nonpsychopaths by using sophisticated modern technologies like fMRI. The implications of this discovery are complex: How much do genetic markers and DNA play a role versus environmental factors like childhood abuse? Is it moral or legal to use this information to try to predict violent crimes or to influence a jury deciding a verdict? The author explores these tricky issues in accessible and insightful chapters that break down the science behind the data while using narratives of high-profile criminals—e.g., Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Mafia contract killer Richard “The Ice Man” Kuklinski, rapist and murderer Brian Dugan—to provide chilling real-life examples of criminally psychopathic behaviors. Importantly, Haycock asserts that the definition of psychopathy itself remains a work in progress, but examining the brain activity of people across the psychopathic spectrum is a robust line of research that promises to yield increasingly intriguing results about evil human behavior.
Part true crime, part neuroscience and a page-turner from start to finish.