Do you remember the futuristic movie Minority Report? In the movie, Tom Cruise’s character works in the Police’s departments of “pre-crime” and goes around arresting people before they commit the actual crime. A new study has come eerily close to the science fiction described in Minority Report, finding that brain scans can quite accurately predict whether a person will reoffend or not.
The research, conducted by scientists at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, found that MRI scans were very good at predicting whether a criminal would reoffend within four years of release. 96 inmates were asked to do an impulse control task while undergoing an MRI scan. Researchers focused on activity in a brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with impulse control. They found that inmates with low activity in the anterior cingulate cortex were about two times more likely to commit another felony after release as compared to inmates with higher anterior cingulate activity.
While the researchers are excited about this finding, they note that we are likely still a long way from using brain scans to guide sentencing and risk assessment. Many more inmates need to be tested to confirm the power of the effect. They also note that people could figure out ways to cheat the test or to render the test results unreadable.
Most exciting about the finding is the idea that impulse control is both measurable and may be related to recidivism. With cognitive training designed to improve impulse control, the researchers speculate, you may be able to reduce recidivism. Perhaps an exercise like Freeze Frame, which trains the brain to suppress impulses, will one day be used to this end. Dr. Merzenich has written extensively on his blog about how criminal activity is likely related to “negative learning” plasticity processes that occur in the brain from childhood on, so it follows that brain training in a positive direction could ameliorate some of these negative effects and change behavior.
You can read more about the study at Wired.