Brain scan of incarcerated men reveal reduced gray matter in homicide offenders

Image is not an actual illtration of findings in report

Nov. 24. 2019: The brains of murderers look different from those of people convicted of other crimes - differences that could be linked to how they process empathy and morality.

Examining brain scans of more than 800 incarcerated men, new research co-authored by a leading University of Chicago neuroscientist found that individuals who had committed or attempted homicide had reduced gray matter when compared to those involved in other offenses. Those reductions were especially apparent in regions of the brain associated with emotional processing, behavioral control and social cognition.

"More gray matter means more cells, neurons and glia," said Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at UChicago, noting differences in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior temporal lobes of the brain. "That's what you need to make computations, to process information—whether it's emotional information that you use to feel empathy for someone else, or information that you use to control your behavior, to suppress your tendencies to react."

"This work represents more than 10 years of data collection across eight prisons in two states," Kiehl said. "We are fortunate to present the world's largest sample of its kind and the results are quite remarkable."

Published in the journal Brain Imaging and Behavior, the new study relied on structural MRI scans of the brains of men incarcerated in New Mexico and Wisconsin.


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