In this fascinating page-turner, neurobiologist Haycock tries to uncover the correlation between brain abnormalities and violent behavior, and whether one guarantees the other. Drawing deeply on recent brain research as well as on psychological manuals, he takes us into the minds and lives of Jared Loughner, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, and others to illustrate the ways that brain research can aid both scientists and lawyers to determine whether a person is a criminal psychopath who recognizes right and wrong, or a psychotic person acting in response to a delusion. He observes that research “clearly indicates a strong connection between psychopathy and impaired function in parts of the brain that play a central role in regulating emotions and in how we react to emotions in ourselves and others.” For example, psychopaths often have trouble recognizing fear in people’s facial expressions and such a response may be caused by a damaged amygdala. Haycock concludes “that the neurological profile of the criminal psychopath is consistent with key features of psychopathy: a lack of moral sense and a lack of empathy.” In the end, though, he admits that criminal responsibility cannot be traced unequivocally to a neurological basis but that such research can certainly begin an important conversation in the legal world. (Apr.)
Neurobiologist Haycock (The Everything Health Guide to Schizophrenia) seeks to prepare readers to be more critical of news stories and scientific claims about psychopathy and other neuroscience topics. Journalists may try to tack neuro onto multiple subjects to attract readers, but there is much to learn about brain organization and function, and the effects of environment (epigenetics), before claiming, for example, that brain scans can predict psychopathic behavior. By using a combination of current and historical case studies involving criminals and patients with brain damage, some of whom have been diagnosed as psychopathic, combined with the most recent neuroimaging research, Haycock provides an up-to-date picture of brain function and dysfunction. While he gives no definitive answers about using scientific methods to predict who the next serial killer might be, he does provide a good synopsis of what current research can tell us about psychopathy and other neurological disorders. VERDICT Haycock's solid overview of neurobiology is recommended for those who deal with criminal psychopaths, but also for anyone who reports on or who is interested in the subject.—Margaret Henderson, Midlothian, VA
Can the tendency for criminally psychopathic behaviors be identified by analyzing neurological images? If so, what consequence does this have for science and society? Psychopaths are everywhere—an estimated 1 in 100 adults qualify. Most are nonviolent but not all: One subset of this group, criminal psychopaths, have aggressive and sometimes-violent tendencies and often fail to exhibit empathy or remorse despite knowing the difference between right and wrong. Many of them commit crimes and end up in jail. In an opportunistic twist of science and justice, these jailed criminal psychopaths provide a unique chance for researchers to study their brains, and there now exists enough reproducible neurobiological data to investigate the connection between brain structure and criminal behavior. Science writer Haycock argues that it is possible to identify physical differences between the brains of psychopaths and nonpsychopaths by using sophisticated modern technologies like fMRI. The implications of this discovery are complex: How much do genetic markers and DNA play a role versus environmental factors like childhood abuse? Is it moral or legal to use this information to try to predict violent crimes or to influence a jury deciding a verdict? The author explores these tricky issues in accessible and insightful chapters that break down the science behind the data while using narratives of high-profile criminals—e.g., Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Mafia contract killer Richard "The Ice Man" Kuklinski, rapist and murderer Brian Dugan—to provide chilling real-life examples of criminally psychopathic behaviors. Importantly, Haycock asserts that the definition of psychopathy itself remains a work in progress, but examining the brain activity of people across the psychopathic spectrum is a robust line of research that promises to yield increasingly intriguing results about evil human behavior. Part true crime, part neuroscience and a page-turner from start to finish.
An informed, masterful account of the theory, research, controversies, and issues surrounding the construct of psychopathy. Haycock's balanced and scientifically sound coverage is admirable and refreshing. Readers will appreciate the way in which Haycock makes the science understandable, interesting, and relevant. Highly recommended.
Murderous Minds is a gem. I became completely immersed in it and lost myself in the world Haycock created at the nexus of science, story, history, complete with downright wondrous narrative yarns to boot.”