Criminal Minds

Neurocriminology research has shown that a criminal mind is neurobiologically, neurochemically, and behaviorally different from the mind of an average individual. Investigating the neurological underpinnings of the criminal mind may determine whether or not offenders should be partially absolved for their felonies. Neurobiologically, domestic abusers [3], violent alcoholic offenders [6], and pedophiles [10] have been found to possess extensive prefrontal (PFC) and orbito-frontal cortex (OFC) damage, causing decreased inhibition of impulsive [1], violent, and sexual behaviors. Moreover, decreased functionality and connectivity between the vmPFC and the amygdala has been discovered in psychopaths, resulting in socially deviant behavior [4] and a severe deficit in empathy. Finally, research has found deficits due to mal-development of the limbic system [9] in criminals with Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Neurochemically, it has been shown that sexual serial killers and offenders who suffer from ASPD have increased testosterone [5] and decreased serotonin levels respectively [7]. Furthermore, a hyperactive meso-dopaminergic reward system has been linked with heroin abusing robbers [2] and violent alcoholic offenders [12]. Behaviorally, functional neuro-imaging techniques [2] are currently being explored in detecting misdirection during interrogations and investigations. Research has found that the neurological basis of deceit is similar in criminals and non-criminals [8]. This may contradict the aforementioned neurobiological evidence and may eliminate the scope for a decreased sentence. A neurological approach to investigating the criminal mind is crucial to reshape the legal system and to prevent the effects of crime in society. Exploring the cognition and behavior of criminals, the neurobiology and neurochemistry of drug-induced and violent crimes, and the neuropsychological disorders of offenders will undoubtedly improve our understanding of human nature.

1. Berlin, H.A., Rolls, E.T., Kischka, U. (2004). Impulsivity, time perception, emotion and reinforcement sensitivity in patients with orbitofrontal cortex lesions. Brain, 127; 1108-1126.
2. Berridge, K. C. (2001). Reward learning: reinforcement, incentives and expectations. Psychology of learning and motivation, 40; 223–278.
3. Cohen, R. A. et. al. (2003). Impulsivity and verbal deficits associated with domestic violence. Journal of international neuropsychological society, 9; 760-770.
4. Koenigs, M., et. al. (2007). Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgments. Nature, 446; 908-911.
5. Langevin, Ron. (2003). A Study of the Psychosexual Characteristics of Sex Killers: Can We Identify Them Before It Is Too Late. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology; 366-382.
6. McBride, W. J., Richard, L. B., Zachary, A. R., Wendy, N. S., & James ,M. M. (2005). Adolescent Alcohol Drinking and Its Long-Range Consequences. Recent Developments in Alcoholism, 17; 123-42.
7. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., et. al. (2008). Abnormal Psychology (4th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
8. Otero-Millan, J., et. al. (2011). Stronger misdirection in curved than in straight motion. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5; 1-4.
9. Raine, A., Lee, L., Yang, Y., & Colletti, P. (2010). Neurodevelopmental Marker for Limbic Maldevelopment in Antisocial Personality Disorder and Psychopathy. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 197; 186–192.
10. Schiffer, B., & Vonlaufen, C. (2011). Executive dysfunctions in pedophilic and nonpedophilic child molesters. Journal of Sex Medicine, 8; 1975-1984.
11. Wolpe , P.R., Foster, K.R., & Langleben, D.D. (2010). Emerging Neurotechnologies for Lie-Detection: Promises and Perils, The American Journal of Bioethics, 10; 40-48.
12. Zhu, Y., Yunpeng, W., Bin, Z., Shuguang W., & Ming, X. (2013). Differential Phosphorylation of GluN1-MAPKs in Rat Brain Reward Circuits following Long Term Alcohol Exposure. PLOS ONE, 8(1); 1-12.


main article: Deception
author: Chloe C

How We Lie
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"Lying is a cooperative act" - Pamela Meyer

Deception is the act of concealment or distortion of the truth. It is a key facilitator in everyday life as it is innately social.[1] It is known that people fall victim to being deceived all the time, but what is not commonly understood is that in order to be deceived, one must consent to it. One must tell a lie, but it takes another to believe the lie in order for it to be effective, thus it is a cooperative act.[2] Deception has emerged from childhood only to become greater and more pervasive in adulthood. Thus the ability of young children to be deceptive is prevalent[3] and perhaps can be attributed to the fact that parents lie to their children all the time.[4] Currently, the use of functional MRIs to understand how the brain acts when lying provides important details towards which brain regions are involved in lying and what types of lies are produced .[5] In terms of crime, learning the biological and functional basis of lying is important because it will benefit society in lie spotting and eventually lead to truth telling. Deception lies at the heart of corruption with specific referral to terrorism, corporate fraud, leaking and withholding classified information, and so on.[6] Becoming more familiar with the underpinnings of deception could lead to a more honest, less suspicious society.

How to Spot a Liar
1. Sip, K., Carmel, D., Marchant, J., Petrovic, P., et al. (2013) When Pinocchio’s nose does not grow” belief regarding lie-detectability modulates production of deception. Front Hum Neurosci 7(16): 1-11.
2. Meyer, P. (2010) Liespotting: proven techniques to detect deception. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
3. Evans, A. & Lee, K. (2013). Emergence of Lying in Very Young Children. Dev Psychol [Epub ahead of print]
4. Heyman, G.D., Hsu, A., Fu, G., & Lee, K. (2012) Instrumental lying by parents in the US and China. Int J Psychol [Epub ahead of print]
5. Sip,K.,Skewes, J.C., Marchant, J. L., McGregor, W.B., Roepstorff, A., and Frith,C.D.(2012).What if I get busted? Deception, choice, and decision-making in social interaction. Front.Neurosci. 6: 58.
6. Henry, S., & Plemmons, D. (2012) Neuroscience, Neuropolitics, and Neuroethics: The Complex Case of Crime, Deception and fMRI. Sci Eng Ethics 18: 573-591

Domestic Violence

main article: Domestic Violence
author: Giorgina Chum
Domestic violence, also known as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), is typically attributed to a psychological cause[1]; this is due to the fact that perpetrators are often diagnosed with personality disorders and psychopathy [2]. However, neurobiology also plays an important role in mediating this offense. Emotional dysregulation and poor self control typical of these offenders have found roots in various neurological differences, in particular, hyperactivity in the parietal lobe and the limbic system [3], and frontal lobe deficit [4]. Furthermore, cognitive impairments play a role in trapping victims in their abusive relationship as in the case of battered women with PTSD, whose cortical hyperactivity decreases their perception of pain[6]. In contrast, certain neurological developmental differences could act as a coping mechanism for witnesses by lowering their level of distress during exposure to domestic violence [5] . For the benefit of developing effective preventions for potential offenders, treatment programs for perpetrators and victims, neuroscience is an ineligible discipline that should be further investigated into as it is evident that domestic violence is beyond the realm of psychology.

1. Shorey, R. C., Febres, J., Brasfield, H., Stuart, G. L. (2012). The prevalence of mental health problems in men arrested for domestic violence. J Fam Viol, 27; 741-748.
2. Gondolf, E. W., White, R. J. (2001). Batterer program participants who repeatedly reassault – Psychopathic tendencies and other disorders. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16; 361-380.
3. Lee, T. M. C., Chan, S., Raine, A. (2009). Hyperresponsivity to threat stimuli in domestic violence offenders: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. J Clin Psychiatry, 70(1); 36-45.
4. Cohen, R. A., et al. (2003). Impulsivity and verbal deficits associated with domestic violence. Journal of international neuropsychological society, 9; 760-770.
5. Choi, J., Jeong, B., Polcari, A., Rohan, M. L., Teicher, M. H. (2012). Reduced fractional anisotropy in the visual limbic pathway of young adults witnessing domestic violence in childhood. NeuroImage, 59; 1071-1079.
6. Strigo, I. A., et al. (2010). Neural correlates of altered pain response in women with posttraumatic stress disorder from intimate partner violence. Biological psychiatry, 68; 442-450.

Heroin Addiction and Crime

main article: Heroin Addiction and Crime
author: Aishwarya Lakshmanan

Heroin Addiction and Crime
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Heroin is an opiate and breaks down into morphine in the brain. When heroin is taken, an initial dose of hedonic pleasure washes over the person as heroin binds to the various mu-opiod receptors in the limbic, cingulate, orbito-frontal, pre-frontal cortex and brainstem causing an initial euphoria followed by a sedative, detached, tranquil state [1]. In addition to such hedonic effects, heroin also binds to the mu-opiod receptors in the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) of the reward mediating mesodopaminergic pathway [2], and causes an increased dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens in the striatum to mediate an intense drug-induced reward [3]. Instrumentally learned behavior such as heroin abuse can take on two forms; goal directed impulsive (S-R-O) actions and non-purposeful, automatic compulsive (S-R) habits. Following the feeling of the first heroin mediated reward and euphoria, an addict learns that the outcome of heroin abuse is positive and heroin abusing for the addict then takes on the goal directed action located in the posterior dorsomedial striatum (pDMS) [4]. However, over time, the increased dopamine release in the striatum causes the goal directed heroin abuse action to change over to become an uncontrollable compulsive habit [5] located in the dorsolateral striatum (DLS) [4]. However, things become even worse when the increased dopamine release in the striatum also causes the drug addict to pathologically ‘want’ not just heroin but everything that looks like heroin through the incentive salience theory [6], whereby now the addict becomes primitively motivated to obtain anything that is related to heroin and commits acquisitive crimes of robbery [7] and sometimes even violent crimes [8] to obtain the heroin they so crave. Heroin addicts also have extensive orbitofrontal and prefrontal cortex damage which causes a dampened behavior inhibition, decreased appraisal of the future [9] and this, compounded with the increased scores of aggression seen in heroin addicts [10]; makes for a dangerous heroin addicted criminal in society.

Spider - A Day In The Life Of A Heroin Addict
Incy Wincy Spider (heroin) went up the water sprout (your veins!)
1. Legradi, G., et al. (1996). Opiate withdrawal increases proTRH gene expression in the ventrolateral column of the midbrain periaqueductal gray. Brain Research, 729:10–19.
2. Kelley, A.E., & Berridge, K.C. (2002). The neuroscience of natural rewards: relevance to addictive drugs. Journal of Neuroscience, 22: 3306–11
3. Masterman, D.L., & Cummings, J.L. (1997). Frontal-subcortical circuits: the anatomical basis of executive, social and motivational behaviors. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 11: 107–114
4. Yin, H.H., Ostlund, S.B., Knowlton, B.J., Balleine, B.W.( 2005). The role of the dorsomedial striatum in instrumental conditioning. European Journal of Neuroscience. 22: 513–23.
5. Everitt, B.J. et. al. (2008). Neural mechanisms underlying the vulnerability to develop compulsive drug-seeking habits and addiction. Neuroscience, 363: 3125–3135.
6. Robinson, T.E., & Berridge, K.C. (2000). The psychology and neurobiology of addiction: an incentive-sensitization view. Addiction, 2: 91–117
7. Morentin, B., Callado, L. F., & Meana, J. J. (1998). Differences in criminal activity between heroin abusers and subjects without psychiatric disorders: Analysis of 578 detainees in Bilbao, Spain. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 43: 993–999.
8. Babor, T. F., Meyer, R. E., Mirin, S. M., Davies, M., Valentine, N., & Rawlins, M. (1976). Interpersonal behavior in a small group setting during the heroin addiction cycle. International Journal of Addictions, 11: 513–523.
9. Davidson, R.J., Jackson, D.C, & Kalin, N.H. (2000). Emotion, plasticity, context, and regulation: perspectives from affective neuroscience. Psychological Bulletin, 126:890–909
10. Miczek et. al. (1993). Alcohol, other psychoactive drugs, and violence.Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


main article: Pedophilia
author: Soojin Oh

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Image source: [6]

Pedophilia, or paedophilia, is a subtype of paraphilia that involves abnormal sexual desire for prepubescent children. It has been shown to be the underlying cause of approximately half of all sexual abuse and offenses made on children [1]. While studies of functionality have elucidated the types of personality traits associated with this deviance in sexual preference, it is still uncertain which structural or functional brain alterations contribute to the onset of this syndrome. There are several hypotheses on cranial regions that increase the risk of development, including abnormalities to the temporal and frontal lobe, specifically at the orbitofrontal cortex and the dorsal medial and lateral prefrontal cortex [2]. There are also suggestions on the connection of pedophilia to the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala of the limbic system [3]. Even so, it may be that this disorder is not a result of a single aberration but due to the summation of multiple cranial anomalies [2]. These disruptions, whether caused by traumatic brain injuries, tumours or other related pathologies have been revealed to cause executive dysfunction [4] and changes in personality related to planning, impulsivity and stimuli evaluation [5]. Although recent research has shown many different hypotheses for the cause and development of pedophilia, this article will primarily focus on the Frontal-Dysexecutive and Temporal-Limbic Approach.

1. Blanchard, R. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for pedophilia. Arch Sex Behav, 39. 304-316.
2. Poeppl, T.B., et al. (2013). Association between brain structure and phenotypic characteristics in pedophilia. Journal of Psychiatric Research.
3. Schiffer, B., et al. (2007). Brain pathology in pedophilic offenders: evidence of volume reduction in the right amygdala and related diencephalic structures. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64. 737-746.
4. Eastvold, A., Suchy, Y., & Strassberg, D. (2011). Executive function profiles of pedophilic and nonpedophilic child molesters. Journal or the International Neuropsychological Society, 17. 295-307.
5. Wiebking, C., & Northoff, G. (2013). Neuroimaging in pedophilia. Curr Psychiatry Rep, 13. 351-360.


main article: Psychopathy
author: Sandie Eiras
Psychopathy is a mental disorder characterized by the absence of guilt and empathy in an individual. This disorder shows similarities to antisocial personality disorder ASPD and was officially recognized in 1968 when published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-II. The limbic system is integral to the study of Psychopathy due to the reduction of functional connectivity in the Amygdala, Cingulate Cortex, and Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex. Voxel and white matter integrity in the vmPFC-amygdala and UF respectively experience impaired associations, leading to abnormalities in judgment, fear, memory and distress causation [2] In addition to neuroanatomy, mutations in the MAOA gene (links between the 2R allele of the variable number tandem repeat area) increase the probability of violence, and assumed to be correlated with psychopathy[1]. Through current research analysis into Psychopathy allows us to transition from vague ideas from the early 60s to specific brain regions and pathways, aiding in the ability of treatment and prevention to be implemented. As greater knowledge is obtained, we can begin to identify risk factors, treatment, and removal of the negative stigma attached to a mental disorder of this caliber, thus allowing for seamless integration into society.

1. Nadelhoffer, T., Bibas, S., Grafton, S. Kiehl, K.A., Mansfield, A., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., Gazzaniga, M. (2012). Neuroprediction, violence, and the law: Setting the stage. Neuroethics, 5(1): 67-99
2. Motzkin, J.C., Newman, J.P., Kiehl, K.A., Koenigs M. (2011) Reduced Prefrontal Connectivity in Psychopathy. The Journal of Neuroscience 31(48):17348 –17357

Self-control and Moral Judgment

main article: Self-control and Moral Judgment
author: Wilson Ho

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The brain governs self-control and the human conscience.
Image source:

Self-control and moral judgment are major determinants of criminal behaviour. Crimes are primarily the result of inadequate self-restraint and poor moral discretion. Self-control is the ability to control one’s own behaviour, while moral judgment is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. It is believed that every human being experiences some form of tendency towards socially deviant behaviour from time to time. If that is true, then it is not one's immoral urges that make them a criminal; it is instead the succumbing to those compulsions by committing crimes that separates the criminals from those who are not. On the other hand, there are those who do not understand that the crimes they commit are wrong. Individuals without a good sense of morality, along with those with weak self-control, are likely to be more susceptible to committing crimes than the norm. Like the many other aspects of the human psyche, self-control and moral judgment are governed by the brain. Understanding the neurobiological aspect of human self-control and moral judgment is pivotal for the prevention of criminal activity and treatment of criminal tendencies.


Sexual Serial Killers

main article: Sexual Serial Killers
author: Karen Abogadil

Infamous Sexual
Serial Killers
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Ted Bundy, a sadistic
sociopath serial killer[2]

Serial killing is defined by the FBI as the act of committing at least three killings on separate occasions over a certain period of time.[1] This heinous crime is committed with varying aspects and elements, from the type of targets a killer pursues to the manner in which the actual crime is committed. As such, serial killing is not a crime that is consistent and continuous in all aspects; instead it is accompanied with different characteristics including those that involve some sexual activity. Much research has been done as an attempt to demystify this incomprehensible behavior. However, it is clear that unlike the mechanics of memory, killing behaviors cannot be analyzed using an fMRI as the act is being committed. Accordingly, most research has been aimed instead at analyzing the traces that these sexual serial killers leave behind in crime scenes.[3] Because of this, there have been different classifications suggested to categorize sexual serial killers. Research has found the presence of psychopathy, neurological impairments, and sadism in these kinds of criminals.[3] Once captured, these criminals can be interviewed and scanned for brain abnormalities for further examination.

1. Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI Reports and Publications: Serial Murder. 2005. Mar 2013 <>.
2. Orange County Courthouse. Ted Bundy Outburst in court during Leach Trial. 1980 Orlando, Florida. Web. 25 March 2013.
3. Sewall, L.A., Krupp, D.B., Lalumiere, M.L. "A Test of Two Typologies of Sexual Homicide." Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment (2013): 82-100.

The Role of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Antisocial Behaviour in Crime

main article: The Role of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Antisocial Behaviour in Crime
author: Ishita Aggarwal

Antisocial Personality Disorder
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Antisocial individuals are often unable to engage with their peers. Source:

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), also known as dyssocial personality disorder, is a mental illness that is characterized by a reckless disregard for social norms, impulsive behaviour, an inability to experience guilt, and a low tolerance for frustration [1][2]. Individuals with ASPD exhibit an inflated sense of self-worth and possess a superficial charm, traits that often aid their attempts to exploit and violate the rights of others [1]. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM–IV) classifies ASPD as a “Cluster B” or “erratic” illness, comparable in symptoms to borderline, narcissistic, and histrionic personality disorders [1]. The DSM-IV restricts the diagnosis of ASPD to individuals who are at least 18 years of age but who have experienced antisocial tendencies before age 15 [1].

Although the causes of ASPD are highly disputed, research has found that antisocial behaviour is linked to abnormalities in the chemistry and anatomy of the human brain [1][2][3]. Low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin [2] and maldevelopment of limbic and septal brain regions are believed to affect judgement, planning, and impulse control in ASPD sufferers [3]. Furthermore, environmental factors, including low socio-economic status, low education levels, and familial lifestyle, contribute to the onset of ASPD [2]. Criminal behaviour is frequently associated with ASPD [1]. Hence, investigating the biological mechanisms underlying ASPD may improve our understanding of the criminal mentality, reducing the prevalence of crime in society. Furthermore, complete knowledge of the neurophysiology of ASPD will facilitate the discovery of new treatments and therapies for ASPD patients.

1. Mendez, M.F. (2009). The Neurobiology of Moral Behaviour: Review and Neuropsychiatric Implications. CNS Spectrums, 14(11), 608-620.
2. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., et. al. (2008). Abnormal Psychology (4th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
3. Raine, A., Lee, L., Yang, Y., & Colletti, P. (2010). Neurodevelopmental Marker for Limbic Maldevelopment in Antisocial Personality Disorder and Psychopathy. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 197, 186–192.

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