ALBUQUERQUE — It began with a casual question that neuroscientist Kent Kiehl posed to a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory who had been conducting brain scans on New Mexico prison inmates.
“I asked, ‘Does ACC activity predict the risk of reoffending?'” Kiehl recalls, using the scientific shorthand for the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain structure associated with error processing.
The postdoctoral fellow, Eyal Aharoni, decided to find out. When he compared 96 inmates whose brains had been monitored while they performed a test that measures impulsiveness, he discovered a stark contrast: Those with low ACC activity were about twice as likely to commit crimes within four years of being released as those with high ACC activity.
“We cannot say with certainty that all who are in the high-risk category will reoffend — just that most will,” Kiehl says. “It has very big implications for how we think about treatment and rehabilitation.”
The study is the latest paper from Kiehl’s lab reporting on experiments performed in a powerful functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner mounted in a semi-trailer. Kiehl and his team at the nonprofit Mind Research Network have used the scanner to study the brains of nearly 3,000 convicted criminals at facilities in New Mexico and Wisconsin since 2007.
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