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Brain scans can show whether you have committed a crime with intent or by recklessness

Read Montague, a computational neuroscientist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, led a research team discovered that brain imaging can determine whether a person behaves in a state of knowledge about a crime. (Virginia Tech)

Neuroscientists all over the world trying to discover the secrets of the brain by studying the images. That is no easy task — the human brain is perhaps the most advanced thing in existence, and it has proven difficult to decipher. But a team of researchers have discovered that the brain images to determine whether someone committed a crime with intent or by recklessness. It may seem like a small difference but it can have a significant impact in the courtroom.

The United States Model Penal Code considers criminal guilt through the lens of a suspicious awareness and intention. Someone who knew that they were acting against the law is subject to stricter punishment than someone who did not. More precisely, a defendant acts be deemed to be on a scale of severity that includes purposeful, knowing, reckless behavior, and negligence.

“People can commit the exact same crime in all its elements and conditions, and depending on their mental states, the difference can be one would go to jail for 14 years and the other would get probation,” Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Virginia Tech who led the study, said in a press release. “Based on that side of the border your on between acting knowingly and recklessly, you can use differential to be robbed of your freedom.”

Montague and his team scanned the brains of 40 people and used machine learning algorithms to study the images and determine whether the participants knew that they were committing crimes.

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The participants were given a thought-experiment, in which they had to decide whether to carry a suitcase across the border. Your got different opportunities that suitcase contained illegal drugs, to distinguish between those who knowingly and willingly committed a crime (since the case is clearly recorded illegal substance) and those who accepted the risk that is associated with the law. By monitoring which parts of the brain were activated in each scan, the researchers were able to determine that the participants knew that they were drugs and that the participants were just reckless acts.

The research was published last week in the journal Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, appears to be the first neurobiological evidence of the difference between well-informed and reckless mental states. Although the study is currently limited to the laboratory — the brain scan must be recorded if the subject is making the decision-it may one day help courtrooms more accurate judgments of a defendant in criminal debt.

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