Science Could Determine If Bad Boys Will Become Adult Criminals

Michael Harper for – Your Universe Online

Psychologists from the University of Michigan say they’ve developed a new, hi-tech way to neurologically pinpoint trouble-making children.

Recent advancements in the field of neurogenetics are helping researchers find the origins of certain neurological disorders and functions and, according to the latest study, the propensity for poor behavior can be identified in the brain. This, say the researchers, could allow parents to essentially “correct” any behaviors that they find unattractive in their children.

The results of this study score a win for “nurture” in its ongoing battle against “nature” as UM researchers say these problem behaviors are both developed after birth and can be changed with proper conditioning.

U Mich psychologist Luke Hyde led the study and will present his research on November 11, at the University’s Institute for Social Research (ISR).

Neurogenetics is a relatively new field of study that allows scientists to find the origin of many neurological problems and oddities. Identifying and understanding these genes can either give doctors a chance to stop potential problems early or allow patients and their family members to know what to expect in the future.

Hyde’s research is an example of both and could allow some parents to understand how their child will behave in the future. Specifically, Hyde suggests his new technique could be used to understand if misbehaving boys will continue to act out as they develop into adulthood. This could have broad effects on our future, including stopping potential crime and reducing the cost incurred by the prison system to hold many of these troublesome males.

“The lifetime prevalence of conduct disorder is around 10 percent, and even higher in males and low-income populations,” said Hyde in a statement. “The total cost to society is enormous, since these behaviors are often chronic, lasting through adulthood.”

Hyde has been working with colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh and other institutes to complete his neurogenetics research. It’s already been observed that many aggressive and anti-social behaviors can be pinpointed to a small, almond-shaped area of the brain called the amygdala. This area of the brain’s limbic system is also said to be responsible for anxiety and depression.

“Previous research suggests that the amygdala becomes over-reactive probably as a result of both genetics and experience,” explained Hyde. “And once the amygdala is over-reactive, people tend to behave in an anxious, over-reactive way to things they see as a potential threat.”

Hyde’s latest study found that a person’s amygdala can be greatly affected if they don’t get the proper support from their family or don’t have a strong social structure in which to thrive. Hyde has previously observed that kids who live in dangerous neighborhoods in poverty are also likely to be on their way to displaying anti-social and troublesome behaviors in the future. In other words, while the amygdala may be the source of these behaviors, Hyde believes a person’s environment and social structure can greatly affect this tangible part of the human brain. Kids who are unfeeling towards animals, feel little regret when they lie or act ou,t and kids who throw tantrums, may be neurologically conditioned to display more troublesome behaviors later in life.

“The results of this test aren’t really meaningful until age three or three-and-a-half,” says Hyde. “Before that, many of these behaviors are fairly common, and don’t predict anything. But after age three, if children are still behaving in these ways, their behavior is more likely to escalate in the following years rather than improve.”

Hyde emphasizes nurture over nature, saying parents who recognize problem behavior are able to correct it and should take strides to correct it as early as possible.

“They need to go for help if they see signs of trouble. Clinical psychologists, among other professionals, have empirically supported treatments that are quite effective for children, especially in this age period.”

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