Criminal intent: Brain scans could show whether someone meant to do bad


What if lawyers could prove that a person knowingly committed a crime by looking at scans of his or her brain?

In [a recent] study, researchers analyzed brain scans and were able to pinpoint patterns of brain activity that [indicated] whether people committed certain acts “knowingly,” meaning that they knew without a doubt that they were committing a crime; or merely “recklessly,” meaning that they were not certain that they were committing a crime.

And although much more research is needed before this type of technique would be reliable enough that it could be used in a court of law, the study suggests that in the future, it may be possible to determine the mental state of a defendant using neuroscience.

The researchers found that the patterns of the participants’ brain activity differed significantly, depending on whether they were acting knowingly as opposed to recklessly. For example, a part of the brain called the anterior insula was more active when the person knew for sure that he or she was carrying contraband, according to the study.

However, [the researchers] stressed that their technique “represents a proof of concept, and not yet a usable tool.”

[The study can be found here.]

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