Long-term offenders have smaller and thinner brains: Study

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Feb 18, 2020, 03.50 PM(IST)

File photo: A picture of a human brain taken by a positron emission tomography scanner, also called PET scan. Photograph:( AFP )

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Long-term offenders show striking differences in brain structure compared with those who have a clean track record.

People with a a long history of offences have structurally smaller and thinner brains according to a study published in the Lancet psychiatry journal.

Long-term offenders show striking differences in brain structure compared with those who have a clean track record.

Researchers from the University College of London conducted the study on 672 people from New Zealand.

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Detailed records of participants’ anti-social behaviour were collected at regular intervals from the age of seven up until the age of 26 . 

The brains of the participants were scanned when they were 45 years old.

The participants were split into three groups based on their history of anti-social behaviour.

Out of these, 441 showed little sign of such behaviour, 151 were only anti-social as adolescents and 80 displayed anti-social behaviour from childhood onwards.

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Researchers found brain scans of adults who had a long history of offending showed a smaller surface area in many regions of the brain compared with those with a clean track record.

 brain

In photo: The average brain of a life-long criminal. Blue areas indicate which parts are smaller when comparing to someone who has never committed a crime.

They also had thinner grey matter in regions linked to regulation of emotions, motivation and control of behaviour which are aspects of behaviour they are known to have struggled with. 

The team said that the findings remained even when other factors such as Intelligence Quotient and socio-economic status were taken into account.

The study claims that genetic and environmental factors such as childhood deprivation may have shaped their brains early in life and it is also possible that other factors such as smoking, alcohol or drug abuse could have caused the brain changes.

Professor Terrie Moffitt who is the co-author of the research said the study helped to shed light on what may be behind the persistent anti-social behaviour of criminals.

According to Professor Terrie Moffitt, another co-author of the study, although these individuals have committed serious crimes but they need to be treated with compassion.

The team say the findings suggest more needs to be done to identify children who show signs of ongoing antisocial behaviour and to offer them or their parents support a move they say could reduce crime later on.

They claim the study provides a 'valuable' insight into what drives crime and how to prevent it happening.