Summary: According to a new study those with higher criminal tendencies choose to take risks and gamble more than law abiding citizens.
A new study shows a difference between how risk is cognitively processed by self-reported law-abiding citizens and self-reported lawbreakers, allowing researchers to better view and understand the criminal mind.
Along with her team, Valerie Reyna, Lois and Melvin Tukman Professor of Human Development and director of the Cornell University Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility, examined neurological correlations between risk preferences and criminality in adults.
In a study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, participants who anonymously self-reported criminal or non-criminal tendencies were offered two choices: $20 guaranteed, or to flip a coin for double or nothing. The study found that individuals who are higher in criminal tendencies choose the gamble, even though they know there is a risk of getting nothing. Those who self-reported having higher criminal tendencies focused on the fact that $40 is more than $20.
Similarly, when given the option to lose $20 or flip a coin and either lose $40 or lose nothing, the study showed a majority of people choose to gamble because losing nothing is better than losing something. Those with higher self-reported criminal tendencies do the opposite, taking a sure loss over the gamble.
“This is different because it is cognitive,” Reyna said. “It tells us that the way people think is different, and that is a very new and kind of revolutionary approach – helping to add to other factors that help explain the criminal brain.”
As the tasks were completed, researchers looked at brain activation through fMRI and found that criminal behavior was associated with greater activation in temporal and parietal cortices, which are brain areas involved in cognitive analysis and reasoning. Ordinary risk-takers who self-reported not breaking the law showed emotional reactivity in the amygdala and reward motivation in the striatal areas.
Reyna points out that not all criminal reasoning is equal, and therefore, public policies around the legal system can be impacted by these findings through a greater understanding of human brain behavior to have a more just system, while helping better protect the public.
“I think this can really give us insight into how to help young people, for example, and how to distinguish the vast majority who will not grow up to be criminals, how to think about their risk-taking – even when it does break the law – in fundamentally different ways,” Reyna said.
Source: Gillian Smith – Cornell
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
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Original Research: Abstract for “Brain activation covaries with reported criminal behaviors when making risky choices: A fuzzy-trace theory approach” by Reyna, Valerie F.,Helm, Rebecca K.,Weldon, Rebecca B.,Shah, Pooja D.,Turpin, and Alexa G.,Govindgari, Shravya in Journal of Experimental Psychology. Published July 2018.
Brain activation covaries with reported criminal behaviors when making risky choices: A fuzzy-trace theory approach
Criminal behavior has been associated with abnormal neural activity when people experience risks and rewards or exercise inhibition. However, neural substrates of mental representations that underlie criminal and noncriminal risk-taking in adulthood have received scant attention. We take a new approach, applying fuzzy-trace theory, to examine neural substrates of risk preferences and criminality. We extend ideas about gist (simple meaning) and verbatim (precise risk-reward tradeoffs) representations used to explain adolescent risk-taking to uncover neural correlates of developmentally inappropriate adult risk-taking. We tested predictions using a risky-choice framing task completed in the MRI scanner, and examined neural covariation with self-reported criminal and noncriminal risk-taking. As predicted, risk-taking was correlated with a behavioral pattern of risk preferences called “reverse framing” (preferring sure losses over a risky option and a risky option over sure gains, the opposite of typical framing biases) that has been linked to risky behavior in adolescents and is rarely observed in nondisordered adults. Experimental manipulations confirmed processing interpretations of typical framing (gist-based) and reverse-framing (verbatim-based) risk preferences. In the brain, covariation with criminal and noncriminal risk-taking was observed predominantly when subjects made reverse-framing choices. Noncriminal risk-taking behavior was associated with emotional reactivity (amygdala) and reward motivation (striatal) areas, whereas criminal behavior was associated with greater activation in temporal and parietal cortices, their junction, and insula. When subjects made more developmentally typical framing choices, reflecting nonpreferred gist processing, activation in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex covaried with criminal risk-taking, which may reflect cognitive effort to process gist while inhibiting preferred verbatim processing.