Abstract
New discoveries in neuroscience challenge our understanding of human responsibility and justice. Recent studies suggest that psychopaths not only exhibit specific behavioral patterns but may also have a distinct neuroanatomical blueprint. Scientists have shown that a significant number of individuals who have demonstrated psychopathic behaviors have reduced volume and other anatomical changes in various regions of the cerebral cortex as well as decreased functional connectivity between different brain areas (i.e., smaller dysfunctional amygdalae). These findings raise ethical questions about how our criminal system deals with these individuals. Should dysfunctional anatomical or diseased features exonerate affected individuals from any responsibility for their criminal activity or the suffering they have caused to their victims? It is estimated that individuals with the signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder make up 25% of inmates. Should individuals classified with this disorder be incarcerated with other criminals? In this paper, we summarize the results of the latest brain imaging studies performed on individuals with antisocial personality traits, referred to as psychopaths or sociopaths, and we explore some of the ethical issues concerning psychopathy and the law.
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DOI 10.1615/EthicsBiologyEngMed.2014010429
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