Neuroscientists can measure criminal intent

17th Mar 2017

Neuroscientists used brain scans (fMRI) to detect any difference between people who committed crimes on purpose and those with reckless behaviour.

The study involved 40 people who took part in a  computerised task that offered rewards to carry suitcases across a border. On some of the trialsthe suitcase was known to hold drugs, but on other times the contentwas uncertain. A computer then analysed the brain scans taken during the task, using an artificial intelligence technique called machine learning. 

The researchers found that they could spot with high accuracy those who knowingly broke the law, and those who did so by simply taking a risk. Before drawing any strong conclusions, the neuroscientists want to see if they can replicated the results with a much bigger sample. 

Understanding more about the way our brains distinguish between legally relevant circumstances in the world has the potential to improve what, up until now, has been the law’s guesswork about the ways in which certain mental conditions might impact criminal responsibility.

To read the full article, please visit PNAS website.


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