New Study Evokes Debate Over the Ethics of Using Biological Markers to Predict, Preempt Harmful ActivityFriday, March 29th, 2013
One of the “holy grails” of ponerology – and an achievement that will inevitably force us to confront extremely challenging ethical dilemmas – is an improved ability to predict harmful behavior before it happens.
Dr. Kent Kiehl of the Mind Research Network has been one of the more active researchers investigating what we can learn from brain imaging of psychopaths. And he and colleagues have recently published, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, a study entitled “Neuroprediction of future rearrest.”
The study involved having 96 soon-to-be-released male prisoners perform computer tasks that required quick decision-making and inhibition of impulsive responses, while their brains were observed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The researchers focused in on the brain region known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and found that, when controlling for other known risk factors, those prisoners with less ACC activity than their fellow study participants were about twice as likely to be rearrested within 4 years of release as those with higher ACC activity.
The question is, as we zero in on markers like this – whether they be certain anatomical or functional characteristics of the brain, particular genetic features or anything else – what is the most ethical way in which to use this knowledge? (more…)