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Youths who commit homicide have less brains

The brain structures of murderers in the age group of 12-18 are significantly different as compared with other teenage criminals who have not committed homicide.

The research team led by Dr. Kent Kiehl of The Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico, believes that the findings may uncover new treatments and behavioural therapies to prevent violent crimes. This is one of the very first attempts at scientifically studying youth who commit homicide.

“Significant biological, cognitive, and neural changes happen during adolescence. Some of these are at times associated with reckless, irresponsible, delinquent and even violent behaviour,” the study observes. “Most adolescents ‘grow’ out of such behaviour.” The few who do not “are the most likely to commit violent crimes and are medical described as being on the ‘life-course persistent’ trajectory,” the researchers say.

The researchers analysed the brains of 20 male youths who had committed homicide alongside the brains of 135 youth offenders who had not. For this they used high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and voxel-based morphometry. The computer programme used in this study was able to the brains of the ‘homicide’ youths with 81% accuracy.

In order to further validate results the MRI scans were compared with the brain scans of control groups that consisted of individuals who had not committed any criminal offense. The youth who had committed homicide had lower total brain volumes than the others.

In particular, they had reduced volumes of gray matter in the medial and lateral temporal lobes, including the hippocampus and posterior insula. The temporal lobes, the researchers say, are involved in processing emotion and controlling impulsive behaviour.

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