Over the years, brain scans have become more and more common and more and more precise, not only in determining the structures of a person’s brain, but, also the activity going on in a person’s brain.
Now, researchers claim that by studying a person’s brain scan can help predict whether criminals will reoffend as well as far more precise lie detecting.
Some new studies, published in the journals Neuron and Neuropsychopharmacology point to success in predicting whether criminals will reoffend. A study of 96 males convicted of crimes showed a correlation with reoffending and low activity in the part of the brain associated with cognitive control and particularly in the area of the brain that deals with cognitive conflict.
Simply put, these scientists believe they can predict who is more likely to commit future crimes. This raises very serious questions. Should people trying to get out of prison on parole be required to do this type of testing? What if they show a predilection for reoffending? Should they be denied parole? Maybe they should just be warned? Just because you are more likely to reoffend doesn’t mean you will. And, vice versa, just because you do not show the signs that you’ll reoffend doesn’t mean you won’t. It seems like a big step towards the thought police taking over. To be fair, the scientists have said this testing is no where near being ready to be used in real life.
Scientists studying brain scans also believe they are getting closer to very precise lie detection. Today, commonly used lie detectors, which measure heart rate and other physical symptoms, are very unreliable at telling if a person is lying or not. In fact, California Evidence Code section 351.1 prohibits lie detector results into evidence unless both parties agree they may come in. That essentially never happens. But, now scientists using brain scans say their testing is more than 90 percent accurate in determining deception and eventually should be 99 percent accurate. The idea is that when a person is lying or being deceitful, different parts of their brain are more active than normal.
This also has serious implications. Defendants are protected by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution from self incrimination. So, they could not be required to take these tests. But, if they voluntarily take these tests, should they be allowed into evidence even if the prosecutor doesn’t like them?
We live in a world where technology continues to attain achievements that seemed unbelievable just years or decades ago. It is critical that as we as a society have these new tools available, we also consider and debate the ethical and moral implications the new tool raise.