Friday, June 17, 2011

Crime and the brain

Every so often we prosecutors will share stories with each other about some dumb criminal move that seems incredible to a normal, thinking person. In fact, there are websites devoted to such things, like this one, and this one.

But really it's not about brains, it's about choices, right? In other words, it's not that criminal is necessarily a dolt, just that he made a doltish decision.

Maybe . . . I posted recently about the science relating to serial killers and brain function, which suggests that decisions, however doltish (or evil), may well be influenced (or even driven) by biology.

And on this same theme, there's a fascinating article in the Atlantic on the subject. It looks at some famous and bizarre cases, including one that happened here in Austin, when Charles Whitman shot and killed 13 people and wounded 32 more. Did you know he had noticed and recorded his own change of behavior and the onset of violent impulses? Did you know he wrote a letter in which he asked for his brain to be analyzed for what might have caused these changes? And did you know that he had a brain tumor that affected the part of his brain that controlled aggressive impulses?

Neither did I.

Now, I had heard of the 40-year-old who suddenly became a pedophile, until they took out the tumor from his brain, returning him to normal.

It's a long article, but well worth your time if any of this interests you.

If not, well, have a splendid weekend anyway. :)


  1. Fascinating stuff.

  2. This is crazy stuff. What's ironic is that if we writers tried to use a brain tumor as the reason someone went nuts and killed a bunch of people, readers would accuse us of copping out, or cheating. And yet this stuff really does happen.

    What's that quote? "Reality doesn't have to make sense. Fiction does."

    Great post! :)

  3. Thought this might interest you:

    Brain scans reduce murder sentence in Italian court (

  4. Absolutely, thanks for sharing that. Very interesting indeed. :)


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