Criminal Justice

Can a brain scan predict recidivism? Low activity in one brain region is linked to rearrest

A brain scan study of 96 inmates in New Mexico has found that those with low activity in a region of the brain controlling impulsivity were more likely to be arrested after their release.

Researchers with the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, N.M., used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan inmates’ brains as they did a test requiring quick decision-making, report Wired and Nature. Those with low activity in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, thought to be important to impulse control, were about twice as likely to be arrested for a felony within four years of their release when compared to those with high activity in the brain region, even when controlling for other risk factors.

Neuroscientist Kent Kiehl, one of the study authors, cautions that more work is needed to measure the reliability of the scans. “This isn’t ready for prime time,” he tells Nature. The data is from a larger project to scan the brains of 3,000 New Mexico inmates.

Kiehl speculates in an interview with Wired that new therapies could be developed to boost activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and lower recidivism. ”Cognitive exercises is where we’ll start,” he told Wired. “But I wouldn’t rule out pharmaceuticals.”

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