In a bid to set brain research back a couple of centuries, The Daily Mail profiles a German neurologist who claims that the brains of all “killers, rapists and robbers” contain an “evil patch” that can be seen in MRI brain scans. That is no-shit what it says.
It’s not the underlying concept that’s absurd. Plenty of research has shown that psychopaths share certain brain features and abnormalities. A May 2012 study found psychopaths had less grey matter in areas of the brain that help us empathize with others. Other research has shown differences in an area called the uncinate fascinulus, which connects the amygdale (associated with fear, aggression and anxiety) to the orbitofrontal cortex (associated with decision making).
But the Mail and neurologist Gerhard Roth frame the whole thing in language closer to phrenology than contemporary neuroscience. Here is what Wikipedia says about phrenology:
Phrenology (from Greek: φρήν, phrēn, “mind”; and λόγος, logos, “knowledge”) is a pseudoscience primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. The distinguishing feature of phrenology is the idea that the sizes of brain areas were meaningful and could be inferred by examining the skull of an individual. Following the materialist notions of mental functions originating in the brain, phrenologists believed that human conduct could best be understood in neurological rather than philosophical or religious terms.
Here is what Roth says he discovered investigating violent offenders in German government studies:
“We showed these people short films and measured their brain waves,” he said. “Whenever there were brutal and squalid scenes the subjects showed no emotions. In the areas of the brain where we create compassion and sorrow, nothing happened.”
The dark mass at the front of the brain, he says, appears in all scans of people with records for criminal violence. He says his researches have led him to believe that some criminals have a ‘genetic predisposition’ to violence.
He added: ‘When you look at the brain scans of hardened criminals, there are almost always severe shortcomings in the lower forehead part of the brain.
Then there is a picture of Hannibal Lector.
Roth does have one caveat:
“Of course it is not automatic. The brain can compensate somewhat for violent tendencies and it is unclear how that works.”
So, maybe you don’t have to be a psychopath who eats people even if you have severe shortcomings in your lower forehead? Anyway, this next part literally did make me laugh out loud:
Dr Roth said no two criminals are alike. He divides them into three groups for the purposes of his hunt for evil.
Guys ….I don’t even know. Nothing in this article makes any sense–but the point!, according to Roth, is that it’s “the task of society to offer widespread support to the children and their parents” before they become people he’ll have to hunt down in his quest to stomp out evil. And here is how the article ends:
Dr Roth is one of Germany’s best-known brain specialists and has was at the forefront of calling for sentencing reforms a few years ago.