A new study from the Mind Research Center in Albuquerque, N. M., uses functional MRI to predict the likelihood of whether a criminal will reoffend after release from prison. Inmates “with relatively low anterior cingulate activity were twice as likely to reoffend than inmates with high-brain activity in this region.”
Society is developing the ability to identify probabilistically ahead of time categories of people who are statistically more likely to commit crimes. In this case, the anterior cingulate cortex, according to the authors, is associated with error processing, conflict monitoring, response selection, and avoidance learning, and they are working on drug therapies to stimulate activity in that area of the brain.
Scholars have expressed serious and varied reservations about overinterpretation of fMRI, most notably that the brain’s ability to rewire itself creates serious limitations in our ability to interpret fMRI activity in a particular area of the brain as being connected with particular species of activity outside the brain. The astounding case of the French civil servant with no brain suggests that the brain is more plastic and more bizarre than we have yet begun to understand.
However, that will not stop policymakers from seeing the glitzy surface of studies such as this, and constructing on top of them a belief that they will be able to reliably detect crime ahead of time. Therefore, our prediction of the week for our ongoing feature “Privacy Concerns of 2020” is that whether the science supports it or not, law enforcement will be using brain scans to identify recidivists ahead of time.
More on what that would look like below the fold!