Brain Scans Could Uncover Psychopaths,Say Researchers
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The aftermath of another U.S. school slaying, and a small Connecticut town searches for answers about how it could have happened. No-one knows what drove Adam Lanza to kill 26 people, including 20 children and his own mother, but mental illness may prove to be a factor. According to neuroscientists, clues may lie in the structure of his brain. They say that studies of MRI scans of the brains of violent criminals show structural abnormalities that are not found in the brains of normal people.

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The aftermath of another U.S. school slaying, and a small Connecticut town searches for answers about how it could have happened. No-one knows what drove Adam Lanza to kill 26 people, including 20 children and his own mother, but mental illness may prove to be a factor. According to neuroscientists, clues may lie in the structure of his brain. They say that studies of MRI scans of the brains of violent criminals show structural abnormalities that are not found in the brains of normal people. James Fallon, from the University of California Irvine, says scans show limbic cortex under-function in the brains of psychopaths. SOUNDBITE (English) JAMES FALLON, NEUROSCIENTIST AT UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA IRVINE, AND EXPERT ON PSYCHOPATHY, SAYING: "The cortex is the outer part of the brain, it's all over - down here and up above. The limbic cortex, limbic means emotional - it controls the emotional life that you have. And that is not so much out here. This is more for thinking, cognition, cold cognition, rational thought - this stuff up here. The stuff that's deep and quite old, is this orbital cortex. Now the orbital cortex, orbital means eyes so it's above the eyes." Fallon says scans show psychopaths' brains invariably share the same characteristics. SOUNDBITE) (English) JAMES FALLON, NEUROSCIENTIST AT UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA IRVINE, AND EXPERT ON PSYCHOPATHY, SAYING: "They all have the same underlying pattern, which is damage or loss of function to the orbital cortex, right above the eyes, and to the front of the temporal lobe - this whole limbic or emotional cortex. That's shaped like a "C" in the brain. And I noticed it was in all of them, so some of them only had that damage. And all of those that I looked at they turn out to be psychopaths and in this case they were murderers too. Some rapists, but psychopathic, really bad criminals." Across the Atlantic researchers at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry have conducted similar studies. The results showed psychopaths had significantly less grey matter in the anterior rostral prefrontal cortex and temporal poles than normal brains. UPSOT: BLACKWOOD SAYING (OFF CAMERA): "This is all grey matter, so this is just picking out those areas that are statistically particularly reduced in the psychopathic group.....The areas in dark red are those in which there are highly significant grey matter volume loss in the psychopathic group." Blackwood says the childhood of psychopaths can be crucial. SOUNDBITE (English) NIGEL BLACKWOOD, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST AT KING'S COLLEGE LONDON, SAYING: "The studies that have been done in our lab looking at callous and emotional children are in children at 9, 10, 11. And we can show brain differences, but we as yet don't know the predictive power of those differences. So someone with quite a bit of grey matter volume loss; are they the ones most likely to go on to be adult psychopaths, for example?" Linking psychopathy to brain function raises the prospect of more killers arguing a defence of insanity. James Holmes allegedly shot dead 12 people and wounded 58 at a Colorado cinema in July. Reports suggest his defence team may offer a 'not guilty' plea by reason of insanity. In the case of Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik, sentenced to preventive detention for killing 77 people, court-appointed psychiatric teams reached opposite conclusions about his mental health. Yet Blackwood believes that within a decade studies like his may be used to prove the diminished responsibility of psychopathic criminals. ..although for the people of Newtown, Connecticut the pain of what happened on Friday the 14th of December is likely to endure for much longer.