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Unformatted text preview: T RENDS IN B EHAVIORAL S CIENCE Seeking the Criminal Element by W. Wayt Gibbs, sta& writer Copyright 1995 Scientific American, Inc. Scientists are homing in on social and biological risk factors that they believe predispose individuals to criminal behavior. The knowledge could be ripe with promise—or rife with danger I magine you are the father of an eight-year-old boy,& says psycholo- gist Adrian Raine, explaining where he believes his 17 years of research on the biological basis of crime is leading. ¡The ethical dilemma is this: I could say to you, ¢Well, we have taken a wide variety of measurements, and we can predict with 80 percent accuracy that your son is going to become seriously violent within 20 years. We can o£er you a series of biological, social and cognitive intervention programs that will greatly reduce the chance of his be- coming a violent o£ender.¤ ¡What do you do? Do you place your boy in those programs and risk stigma- tizing him as a violent criminal even though there is a real possibility that he is innocent? Or do you say no to the treatment and run an 80 percent chance that your child will grow up to (a) de- stroy his life, (b) destroy your life, (c) destroy the lives of his brothers and sisters and, most important, (d) de- stroy the lives of the innocent victims who su£er at his hands?& For now, such a Hobson¤s choice is purely hypothetical. Scientists cannot yet predict which children will become dangerously aggressive with anything like 80 percent accuracy. But increas- ingly, those who study the causes of criminal and violent behavior are look- ing beyond broad demographic charac- teristics such as age, race and income level to factors in individuals¤ personal- ity, history, environment and physiolo- gy that seem to put them¥and soci- ety¥at risk. As sociologists reap the bene¦ts of rigorous long-term studies and neuroscientists tug at the tangled web of relations between behavior and brain chemistry, many are optimistic that science will identify markers of male¦cence. ¡This research might not pay o£ for 10 years, but in 10 years it might revolutionize our criminal justice system,& asserts Roger D. Masters, a po- litical scientist at Dartmouth College. ¡With the expected advances, we¤re going to be able to diagnose many peo- ple who are biologically brain-prone to violence,& claims Stuart C. Yudofsky, chair of the psychiatry department at Baylor College of Medicine and editor of the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. ¡I¤m not worried about the downside as much as I am en- couraged by the opportunity to prevent tragedies¥to screen people who might have high risk and to prevent them from harming someone else.& Raine, Yu- dofsky and others argue that in order to control violence, Americans should trade their traditional concept of justice based on guilt and punishment for a ¡medical model& based on prevention, diagnosis and treatment....
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- Fall '08
- SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, Adrian Raine