CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta Considers Boston Marathon Bombings in Light of Anatomy of Violence Author Adrian Raine’s Work
The release of the new book The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime by University of Pennsylvania neurocriminologist Adrian Raine has sparked a wave of media coverage of issues at the heart of ponerology.
Our last post focused on Raine’s essay “The Criminal Mind,” featured in the April 27, 2013 Wall Street Journal, in which he discussed how advances in our understanding of the genetic, neurological and environmental bases of violence are influencing our view of and approach to crime.
Now another large media outlet, CNN, has run not one, but two segments featuring Raine’s work.
In a segment entitled “The Anatomy of Violence: A look inside the minds of killers,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked to Raine and discussed his work’s possible relevance in understanding why the Boston Marathon bombings occurred.
The segment opens with footage of the bombings, over which Gupta says:
“In the wake of tragedy come the inevitable questions. What makes a killer? Is there a switch that turns on a rampage? And why? Why would someone do this?”
Adrian Raine then appears on the screen and says that to simply label a person that commits such acts “evil” is “13th-century thinking.” Gupta introduces Raine, explaining that Raine believes there are “biological explanations for violence” and Raine then explains why he believes that brain dysfunction may partly explain the Boston Marathon bombings.
One interesting condition that Raine mentions that he found relevant, given that the older of the two brothers charged with the bombings, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was a very skilled boxer, is a recognized brain abnormality called Cavum Septum Pellucidum. Raine says that this condition, in which a maldeveloped limbic system fails to normally put pressure on and thus fuse the leaflets of the Septum Pellucidum, predisposes to a psychopathic personality marked by fearlessness and the ability to commit remorseless violence. For whatever it is worth, he says it has also been found in boxers.
In fact, in reading Wikipedia’s page about Cavum Septum Pellucidum, I became aware that perhaps the most famous fictional boxer of all time, Rocky Balboa, was specifically told in Rocky V that he had this very condition.
I could only find video of the scene in which Rocky receives this diagnosis online in Italian. And the translation has “pellucidum” apparently incorrectly transformed into “pelliculum,” which may be why the poster put a question mark at the end of the video’s title of “Cavum Septum Pelliculum?” You can see an English translation here. But here is the clip.
Gupta then shows us, using imagery from a psychopath’s brain, the smaller amygdalae found in psychopaths in Raine’s research, which also contribute to the fearlessness and disinhibition that could enable one to commit harmful acts like the Boston bombings.
Gupta also discussed the possible link between Raine’s work and the Boston Marathon bombings in another segment on the CNN program The Lead with Jake Tapper.
During the segment, which begins with the lower third title again saying “The Anatomy of Violence: A look inside the minds of killers,” host Tapper says, in reference to those bombings, that we are trying to “understand this unmitigated evil.” In that spirit, he asks Gupta about the bombers, Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev themselves, as well as about the three men later arrested for having attempted to help Dzhokar cover up his involvement. Gupta mentions having spoken to Adrian Raine about this topic and says it may be relevant to understand that Dzhokar and the three arrested later, all being just 19 years old, may have had a combination of fully developed and fueled emotional brain centers along with not-yet-fully-developed judgment centers in their frontal lobes.
The title in the lower third then changes to “The Mind of a Terror Suspect: Could brain chemistry have played role in bombings?”
Tapper raises the issue of whether defense attorneys will use our increased insight into the genetic and neurological underpinnings of harmful behavior to argue that their clients’ actions should be excused. Gupta calls our advancing understanding of the biological roots of crime and violence “an emerging science” and then offers two examples that really highlight the difficulty of assigning appropriate levels of blame to those that commit harmful acts while suffering from certain biological conditions.
- First, Gupta mentions that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, in which a mother’s drinking during pregnancy harms the developing fetus’ brain, leads that baby in later life to have a much higher likelihood of committing crimes and a nineteen times greater chance than otherwise of ending up in prison.
- Gupta also mentions how a brain tumor can drastically change an otherwise normally-functioning person’s behavior.
This is one of the first times I have seen ponerologic material discussed so explicitly on CNN. However, it isn’t the first. For instance:
- In the wake of the Newtown school shootings, I saw Erin Burnett interview Dr. James Fallon about the biological markers of psychopathy and whether he expected them to be discovered post-mortem in shooter Adam Lanza.
- I also saw a recent segment in which anchor Don Lemon intereviewed criminal profiler Jim Clemente and forensic psychiatrist Helen Morrison about the prevalence of sociopathy. (I tried to find video of this latter segment to share on this site but it seems it was never posted online. However, the transcript of the segment can be found about 1/4 of the way down the page of this transcript of Lemon’s entire show that night.)
But it was really nice to see Sanjay Gupta, who I believe is deservedly highly regarded as a physician, scientist and journalist, covering this topic from a professional and medical perspective. This is the type of coverage I would love to see more of on CNN and similar networks. And I’m glad that I have seen a lot more of it in the past few months than I can remember ever seeing before.
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Tags: adrian raine, amygdala, boston marathon bombings, boxing, brain tumors, cavum septum pellucidum, cnn, fetal alcohol syndrome, frontal lobes, jake tapper, limbic system, neurocriminology, neuroscience, psychopathy, rocky, sanjay gupta, septum pellucidum, the anatomy of violence, the lead with jake tapper, tsarnaev brothers, violence
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