Aberrant brain gray matter in murderers

Abstract

Homicide is a significant societal problem with economic costs in the billions of dollars annually and incalculable emotional impact on victims and society. Despite this high burden, we know very little about the neuroscience of individuals who commit homicide. Here we examine brain gray matter differences in incarcerated adult males who have committed homicide (n = 203) compared to other non-homicide offenders (n = 605; total n = 808). Homicide offenders’ show reduced gray matter in brain areas critical for behavioral control and social cognition compared with subsets of other violent and non-violent offenders. This demonstrates, for the first time, that unique brain abnormalities may distinguish offenders who kill from other serious violent offenders and non-violent antisocial individuals.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. All processed data (completely de-identified), code, and materials used will be made available to any scientist seeking to replicate or re-analyze the data.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and the New Mexico Department of Corrections for their cooperative efforts with the Mind Research Network.

Funding

This research was supported in part by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health: R01DA026505, R01DA026964, R01DA020870, R01MH070539, and R01MH087525 (PI: Kent Kiehl), R01MH087525 (PI: Jean Decety), R01MH090169 (PI: David Kosson) and the Macarthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project.

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Correspondence to Nathaniel E. Anderson or Kent A. Kiehl.

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This research was approved by multiple IRBs, including the Ethical and Independent Review Services (E&I), the University of Wisconsin-Madison, divisions of the Corrections Department of Wisconsin and The New Mexico Corrections Department as well as the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP).

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All individuals volunteered to participate after providing written informed consent. Participation did not affect institutional status (e.g., security level, privileges, and parole or release date) and participants were paid for their time at a rate commensurate with pay for work assignments at their facility.

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Sajous-Turner, A., Anderson, N.E., Widdows, M. et al. Aberrant brain gray matter in murderers. Brain Imaging and Behavior (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11682-019-00155-y

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Keywords

  • Brain imaging
  • Homicide
  • Voxel-based morphometry
  • Violence
  • Antisocial behavior