July 15, 2013
It began with a casual question that neuroscientist Kent Kiehl posed to a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory who had been conducting brain scans on New Mexico prison inmates.
“I asked, ‘Does ACC activity predict the risk of reoffending?’” Kiehl recalls, using the scientific shorthand for the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain structure associated with error processing.
The postdoctoral fellow, Eyal Aharoni, decided to find out. When he compared 96 inmates whose brains had been monitored while they performed a test that measures impulsiveness, he discovered a stark contrast: Those with low ACC activity were about twice as likely to commit crimes within four years of being released as those with high ACC activity.