Electrical brain stimulation may help reduce people’s inclinations to commit violent crimes, a new study has found. The ‘shocking’ treatment could potentially be used to treat or prevent violent behavior, researchers say.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore used an electrical current to stimulate a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which has been linked to violent acts.
They tested the procedure on 86 healthy adults, administering 20 minutes of brain stimulation to half of the test subjects before asking the whole group to consider two hypothetical scenarios, one describing a physical assault, the other a sexual assault. Afterwards, the participants were asked to rate the likelihood that they might commit similar acts.
Compared with the control group, the brain-stimulated group reported a 47 percent lower likelihood that they would commit a non-sexual physical assault, and a 70 percent lower likelihood of committing sexual assault.
Publishing their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers describe how the stimulation procedure appeared to reduce people’s intentions to commit violent acts. However, the reduction was not apparent in another part of the study, in which test subjects were allowed to vent their emotions on voodoo dolls. The dolls received the same level of abuse, regardless of whether the subject had been zapped or not. Furthermore, the study was not conducted on criminals, which raises questions about whether the study supports the notion that the procedure can reduce real-life crime.
The researchers say that, while far more testing needs to be done, if the procedure proves to be effective, it could be used to help reduce violent crimes in the future or to treat anti-social behavior.
“When most people think of crime they think bad neighborhoods, poverty, discrimination, and those are all correct,” Adrian Raine, one of the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, told the Guardian. “But we also believe that there’s a biological contribution to crime which has been seriously neglected in the past. What this shows is that there could be a new, different approach to try and reduce crime and violence in society.”
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