Vanderbilt professor Owen Jones, who is one of the nation's few professors of both law and biology, and Vanderbilt associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Rene Marois, scanned participant's brains with an fMRI. Their goal was to see which parts of the brain were activated when a person was asked to make a decision on crime and punishment
Vanderbilt professor Owen Jones, who is one of the nation's few professors of both law and biology, and Vanderbilt associate professor of psychology and neuroscience Rene Marois, scanned participant's brains with an fMRI. Their goal was to see which parts of the brain were activated when a person was asked to make a decision on crime and punishment. (c) Vanderbilt University
Health
Simple blood test diagnoses Parkinson's disease long before symptoms appear — A new research report appearing in the December issue of the FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) shows how scientists from the United Kingdom have developed a simple blood test to…
Early sign of Alzheimer's reversed in lab — One of the earliest known impairments caused by Alzheimer's disease - loss of sense of smell - can be restored by removing a plaque-forming protein in a mouse model of the disease,…
Parental controls on embryonic development? — When a sperm fertilises an egg, each contributes a set of chromosomes to the resulting embryo, which at these very early stages is called a zygote. Early on, zygotic genes are inert,…
Newly discovered heart stem cells make muscle and bone — Researchers have identified a new and relatively abundant pool of stem cells in the heart. The findings in the December issue of Cell Stem Cell, a Cell Press publication, show that…
BUSM researchers develop blood test to detect membranous nephropathy — Research conducted by a pair of physicians at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Centre (BMC) has led to the development of a test that can help diagnose…
New hip implants no better than traditional implants — New hip implants appear to have no advantage over traditional implants, suggests a review of the evidence published on bmj.com today…
Action needed to improve men's health in Europe — Policies aimed specifically at men are urgently needed to improve the health of Europe's men, say experts on bmj.com today…
Probiotics reduce infections for patients in intensive care — Traumatic brain injury is associated with a profound suppression of the patient's ability to fight infection. At the same time the patient also often suffers hyper-inflammation, due…
High blood sugar levels in older women linked to colorectal cancer — Elevated blood sugar levels are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, according to a study led by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.…
Engineered botulism toxins could have broader role in medicine — The most poisonous substance on Earth - already used medically in small doses to treat certain nerve disorders and facial wrinkles - could be re-engineered for an expanded role in helping…
Where am I? > Home > News > Health

How the brain thinks about crime and punishment

Science Centric | 11 December 2008 11:08 GMT
Printable version A clip for your blog or website E-mail the story to a friend
Bookmark or share the story on your social network Vote for this article Decrease text size Increase text size
DON'T MISS —
Advance towards early Alzheimer's diagnosis
Advance towards early Alzheimer's diagnosis — The leader of the team that made the discovery, Professor Christopher Rowe of the Austin Hospital in Melbourne, says early…
New type of glass can dissolve and release calcium into the body
New type of glass can dissolve and release calcium into the body — British scientists are developing a new type of glass that can dissolve and release calcium into the body. This will enable…
More Health

In a pioneering, interdisciplinary study combining law and neuroscience, researchers at Vanderbilt University peered inside people's minds to watch how the brain thinks about crime and punishment. When someone is accused of committing a crime, it is the responsibility of impartial third parties, generally jurors and judges, to determine if that person is guilty and, if so, how much he or she should be punished. But how does one's brain actually make these decisions? The researchers found that two distinct areas of the brain assess guilt and decide penalty.

This work is the joint effort of Owen Jones, professor of law and of biology, and Rene Marois, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology. Together with neuroscience graduate student Joshua Buckholtz, they scanned the brains of subjects with a highly sensitive technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI. Their goal was to see how the brain was activated when a person judged whether or not someone should be punished for a harmful act and how severely the individual should be punished.

During the study, the participant inside the fMRI scanner read scenarios on a computer screen, each describing a person committing an arguably criminal act that varied in harmfulness. With every scenario that appeared, the participant determined how severely to punish the scenario's protagonist on a scale of 0 (no punishment) to nine (extreme punishment). Sometimes there were extenuating circumstances or background information about why the person acted as he did. Was he coerced? Did he feel threatened? Was he mentally ill?

'We were looking for brain activity reflecting how people reason about the differences in the scenarios,' said Jones.

The researchers found that activity in an analytic part of the brain, known as the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, tracked the decision of whether or not a person deserved to be punished but, intriguingly, appeared relatively insensitive to deciding how much to punish. By contrast, the activity in brain regions involved in processing emotions, such as the amygdala, tracked how much subjects decided to punish.

'These results raise the possibility that emotional responses to criminal acts may represent a gauge for assessing deserved punishment,' said Marois.

'There are long-running debates about the proper roles in law of 'cold' analysis and 'hot' emotion,' said Jones. 'Our results suggest that, in normal punishment decisions, the distinct neural circuitries of both processes may be jointly involved, but separately deployed.'

Another intriguing result of the study was that the part of the brain that third-party subjects used to determine guilt in this study was the same brain area that has previously been found to be involved in punishing unfair economic behaviour in two-party interactions.

'The convergence of findings between second-party and third-party punishment studies suggests that impartial legal decision-making may not be fundamentally different from the reasoning used in deciding to punish those who have harmed us personally,' said Marois.

The full study titled 'The Neural Correlates of Third-Party Punishment' can be found in the latest issue of the science journal Neuron out 11 December.

Source: Vanderbilt University


Leave a comment
The details you provide on this page [e-mail address] will not be used to send unsolicited e-mail, and will not be supplied to a third party! Please note that we can not promise to give everyone a response. Comments are fully moderated. Once approved they will be posted within 24 hours.
Expand the form to leave a comment

RSS FEEDS, NEWSLETTER
Find the topic you want. Science Centric offers several RSS feeds for the News section.

Or subscribe for our Newsletter, a free e-mail publication. It is published practically every day.

Digging deep into the genetics of schizophrenia by evaluating microRNAsDigging deep into the genetics of schizophrenia by evaluating microRNAs

— Researchers at Columbia University Medical Centre have illuminated a window into how abnormalities in microRNAs, a family of molecules that regulate expression of…

Ugandan monkeys harbour evidence of infection with unknown poxvirusUgandan monkeys harbour evidence of infection with unknown poxvirus

— Researchers report this month that red colobus monkeys in a park in western Uganda have been exposed to an unknown orthopoxvirus, a pathogen related to the viruses…

Research may lead to improved hearing for someResearch may lead to improved hearing for some

— Electric-acoustic stimulation research by an Arizona State University professor could help discover important acoustic cues used to improve the hearing of certain…

Novel method of measuring insulin promises improvements in diabetes treatmentNovel method of measuring insulin promises improvements in diabetes treatment

— A new method that uses nanotechnology to rapidly measure minute amounts of insulin is a major step toward developing the ability to assess the health of the body's…

Popular tags in Health: cancer · diabetes · malaria · obesity