I'm Adrian Raine, a professor in criminology, psychiatry, and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. My new book- "The Anatomy of Violence"- argues that bad biology is partly to blame for bad behavior. For some, the seeds of sin are sown early in life, beyond the individual's control. So are violent offenders not responsible? Is biology destiny? And what are the implications for treatment and crime prevention? AMA.

To verify my identity, my publisher has tweeted about this event: http://twitter.com/pantheonbooks

Comments: 183 • Responses: 69  • Date: 

donnalyman15 karma

Hi Dr. Raine, These questions are coming from a few criminology grad students at UMD. We wanted to thank you for giving your lecture last fall. You’re definitely the most entertaining and engaging speaker we’ve seen.

  • Are you in favor of gendering criminological theories to address biological differences between men and women?

  • Have you ever looked into Moffitt’s theory that there are neurological differences between adolescent limited and life course persistent offenders? Does the research support her claims? If so, what implications does that have for future policy?

  • What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at ASC?


adrian_raine17 karma

Hi there! Yes I do think it's useful to address biological differences between men and women in order to better understand the causes of crime. Low heart rate and high testosterone are two candidates.

Regarding Moffitt's theory- yes we have found neuropsychological differences between these two groups which support her claim. If this can be substantiated further, there are potential implications for treatment. Possibly, for example, using omega-3.

The weirdest thing I've seen at ASC is having a symposium with amazing speakers (not me) and with only 6 people in the audience.

deadleeaims12 karma

Hi Dr. Raine,

Thank you for taking the time to read my question. I am an avid follower of your work on psychopathy. I am a graduate student running a study using event-related potentials to examine emotional processing in a sample of undergraduate males with high and low psychopathic traits. I have recently begun to analyze my data and found the High group had larger Late Positive Potential (LPP) amplitudes for disgusting images from the International Affective Picture System compared to the LPP amplitudes of the controls.

Can you share your thoughts on this finding? Is there reason to believe that disgust may be one of the few emotional responses that psychopaths experience?

adrian_raine10 karma

It might simply mean that disgusting images are one of the few things that can stimulate psychopaths. Some argue they have a low threshold for stimulation. Also, Yu Gao did find some evidence for the lack of a P3 deficit in psychopaths when they attend to events of interest.

deadleeaims4 karma

I am familiar with the low stimulation argument. However, the High psychopathic group showed smaller LPP amplitudes to the mutilation images compared to the controls, which are thought to be much more arousing than the disgusting images.

Do you have any thoughts about this?

adrian_raine8 karma

Ah! I did not know this. I would have actually expected that response to these two stimuli would not differ. Can you replicate the finding?

JusticeByZig10 karma

I enjoyed your interview on NPR. That's all!

adrian_raine20 karma

I found that really tough. Terry Gross is one heck of a good interviewer. She makes you feel very comfortable, relaxed and at ease and yet, she can really put you on the spot- in a nice sort of way. At one point, she told me I was contradicting myself, and she was quite right. Sometimes I'm never really sure of what I really believe, even after 35 years of research in this field.

adrian_raine10 karma

My three hours are up! I've very much enjoyed this interchange and hope you have too. Thank you all for your very thoughtful questions.

  • Adrian Raine

nomadz938 karma

What type of influences does the media have on criminal behavior like shoots, bombings, etc.?

adrian_raine13 karma

The international society for research on aggression jointly agrees that violence in the media does play some role in increasing the propensity for aggressive behavior. So yes it does play a role but like many causal factors it only by itself accounts for a small proportion of the variance in violence.

maxbemisisgod8 karma

Hi Professor Raine. First I would just like to thank you. I was in your Fall 2012 Biosocial Criminology class, and it was one of the best college experiences of my freshman year. I knew next to nothing about criminology beforehand, so I just took the class on a whim, and it changed my entire outlook on crime and showed me just how complex it is, all the way down to the molecular level. This is work that I am confident will change (in a very positive way) how crime and criminals are treated as long as research continues and people pay close attention with open minds. I can’t stress enough how important I think your work is. So much so that now I am seriously considering entering the field myself. I’m sure I speak for all your students when I say THANK YOU for an incredible, stimulating, and unforgettable class.

My question: What is your personal response to critics of your work who may believe your research is harmful in that it may just set up people, young children in particular, as "risks" or "future criminals" instead of just complex human beings? I'm sure many fear that future knowledge can be used to segregate children based on their predisposition to crime, or even be used as an excuse to start medicating them at a young age, and the effect this would have could be extraordinarily damaging. What are your feelings on how this research can be used responsibly?

adrian_raine17 karma

Very good question- and a difficult one to answer easily. We could decide to not do anything until the child creates serious harm to others. But then aren't we acting too late? Your point goes to the issue of labeling. If they are labeled as bad to begin with, it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. On balance, I do think we should act earlier to help those children in most need. But, we have to be very careful about how we present the intervention/prevention program to minimize stigmatization. Put it this way- as a parent I would want to know if my kids have a significant chance of becoming violent criminal offenders and I would want to do something about it.

adrian_raine12 karma

And I am pleased that my class has changed your outlook on crime, and a lot of that is due to wonderful students like you with a passion and interest in asking pertinent questions in class.

touchmystuffIkillyou7 karma

When you say "the seeds of sin are sown early in life"... by whom? The statement suggests you're not talking about something biological, but rather environmental. So, if you mean say, the parents for example... should that lead us to punish the parents (as identifiable "sowers") in stead of/ in addition to the perpetrator?

In the context of neurological or biological determinism, what are examples of crimes that are avoidable vs. unavoidable and how should they be punished differently?

adrian_raine9 karma

You are quite right that I am talking about environmental as well as biological early influences. They are equally important, and you raise a great questions in terms of whether we should hold parents responsible for "creating" a budding criminal offender. Part of me thinks we should in cases of really bad parenting. But, I also have many emails from what seem to be very kind and loving parents who are desperately trying to gain a solution to their child's devilish behavior. They are doing their very best. Sometimes it's just not the parents' fault.

What do others think? I am uncertain of my own perspective.

lk09nni7 karma

Hi Dr Raine! Although I find your research interesting, it frightens and worries me to know that theories not unlike yours have been used to justify horrible atrocities in the recent past. I'm especially horrified at the thought that your arguments can be intertwined with culturally created racial and gender stereotypes and used as an alibi oppress certain groups of people. What are your opinions on this subject? Thanks!

adrian_raine9 karma

I'm pleased you asked this question and I share your concerns. I have a brain scan that looks very much like that of a serial killer who killed 64 people in a 12 year period without being caught. I would not want biological and social screening of adults to identify those who are violent prone. as I would be the first to be oppressed. That same argument can be applied at a group level. We have to learn from the history of the misuse of biological research in society. At the same time, with due caution I think we can move forward and use this knowledge for the betterment of everyone.

PoiPu6 karma

I am curious about your opinion of USA 'gun culture'. Specifically, what is going on in the psyche of the subculture of Americans who believe that gun ownership (either in the drawer next to the bed, or even concealed carry or open carry of guns) make people more safe.

Or, to simplify the question: What to you think is the origin of Wayne LaPierre's hypothesis: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Why do so many people believe this?

adrian_raine12 karma

I was brought up in England and I am still a British citizen so some of you will have to excuse me when I give my perspective on the gun culture in America. It's very hard for me to understand and I just believe there has to be a way that we can reduce the use of guns. To me, "the right to bear arms" is anathema. But having said that if I was brought up in rural America, I'm sure I would feel differently. I've never held a real gun in my life and never will. My boys want guns but I refuse to allow us to have one.

adk090 karma

As an addition to this, what do you consider to be proper regulation for firearms in America?

By and large we know that American and British cultures are extremely different on firearms, and I'd like to know if you'd encourage regulation of firearms for all, instead of it being a personal decision (like with you and your son).

adrian_raine8 karma

I agree with regulation for all. It's really a question of how far you go with it. I personally don't want any guns at all around.

JusticeByZig5 karma

Not sure why it matters. Society has deemed that actions that are reprehensible should be punished. If we start caring about the individual neurons that led to that behavior, don't we end up with an unfair system? Do the crime, do the time? If you rob a bank, being poor led you to rob the bank. Maybe you're poor because your education was subpar. Nobody cares about these causes, why care about neurological causes? Besides, doesn't your environment lead to your brain development? It's not like they are totally blameless for how their brain has developed. If you choose to do meth, and it changes your brain physiology, you are still responsible for your actions. Slope seems too slippery.

adrian_raine10 karma

Good point- see my response to the earlier question before yours. But I believe in a dimension of responsibility. There are degrees to which we are responsible, and some people are more capable of being responsible than others. Take someone who is completely psychotic and kills a mother that they really loved very dearly. Their paranoid delusion made them kill. Are we going to ignore that?

Ah that slippery slope! Let's not go there for fear for of the quagmire we may land in. I think that's a cop out! All to often the slippery slope blocks progress. I think there is solid ground on that slope where we can jointly reach a sensible and balanced perspective on responsibility and punishment. Mind you, I use "slippery slope" all the time when I am arguing!

CharlesDance5 karma


adrian_raine13 karma

This can be looked at in two ways. In criminology, strain theory argues that the stressors associated with low income will motivate people to crime. But at the same time stress can negatively impact the brain and predispose to violence. I suspect both perspectives have merit.

Phallindrome5 karma

What's your opinion on the importance of environmental lead exposure as a factor in criminal behaviour?

adrian_raine3 karma

I believe there is quite a lot of research indicating that children exposed to lead are more likely to become antisocial. At the same time, I've heard leading experts feel that the evidence is not that strong. At the same time, changes in violence across time are quite strongly associated with changes in environmental lead levels across time. Overall, therefore, I believe it does play some role but clearly more research is needed!

RegDud5 karma

Dr. Raine, what do you recommend people do if they are forced to work with a psychopath, or if they have a psychopath in their family? Some folks cannot escape connecting with psychopaths. Are there any tricks to encouraging them to "play nice"?

adrian_raine11 karma

You're quite right. Sometimes we are stuck with psychopathic-like people in our lives. The best strategy is simply to minimized contact with them and not play ball. Then they'll move on to somebody else. If they are a family member, it's clearly different. But we suspect from research that psychopaths may be more responsive to rewards than to punishments. So if we are talking about a child, use of rewards may be more effective in shaping behavior. If I was married to one, I would divorce them. If they were my brother or sister, I'd leave home (that's not why I left England!). You can't really afford to live around psychopaths.

RegDud5 karma

Another question: a lot of folks see the North American business model as inherently psychopathic. It promotes self-interest over all else and often leads to environmental, psychological and even physical suffering. How can entrepreneurs keep the psychopathy of their organization "in check"? Should we start screening employees for psychopathic tendencies?

adrian_raine7 karma

Leading researchers in psychopathy in the United States are developing an instrument to assess psychopathic personality in business organizations. While it is early days, their initial findings have been promising. It could help in the future to keep psychopathy "in check" as you say. But instruments are never perfectly accurate. It could lead to unfair discrimination in some cases.

misunderstandingly5 karma

Dr. Raine,

Kudos to you sir, rarely is an IAMA filled with so many thoroughly well-informed students of the OP's area of expertise. You have an erudite fan base.

My question - Are you familiar with the book Anatomy of an Epidemic? (My guess is yes,.. if only due to the similarity in titles!)

Do you have an opinion on the argument that Mr. Whitaker put forth that the application of psychiatric drug-based interventions with the goal of improving mental health appears to result in (on average) dramatically worse long term results? Perhaps even driving patients further up the scale of mental illness in the interests of relieving short tern symptoms.

Mr. Whitaker puts together a convincing (to me, a layman) foundation of studies and research that seem to show we are "re-wiring brains" and not for the better with drug interventions.

Follow-up question - I have ordered your book (just now) so perhaps you address this there. In your synopsis you say that your studies may help "identify violent offenders early in life [potentially informing] crime-prevention policies" - are you concerned about the inefficacy of intervention-directed policies in the hands of government bureaucratic oversight?

BTW - I can't speak for Mr. Whitaker or Anatomy of an Epidemic - I hope I have gotten his thesis right in my question.

adrian_raine5 karma

I have not read his book unfortunately, but a colleague of mine has documented that antidepressant medications are not as effective as we would like to believe, but I would be surprised on balance to conclude that medications for mental health conditions like schizophrenia and manic depression make things worse.

On your follow-up question- yes indeed I am concerned. I raise this issue in the last chapter and the ogre of future governments making decisions "in loco parentis"- that is making the decisions on behalf of parents in society.

And thank you for your very kind comments. Hope you enjoy the book!

deadleeaims4 karma

Hi Dr. Raine,

I have another question. If biology may predetermine destiny, are individuals with certain personalities or a specific neurobiological dysfunction not responsible for their violent behavior?

Thank you!

adrian_raine9 karma

I personally do not believe in free will. I believe I am a biological machine built to believe in free will. All behavior, feelings, and thoughts arise from the brain and are a complex product of gene environmental interactions. In that sense, all behaviors have predispositions. If we excuse an offender because we can document early factors that predisposed him or her to crime then we'd have to excuse everyone. We just can't do that.

But can we really turn a blind eye to the fact that innocent babies are more likely to grow to up to become violent offenders because their mother smoked or drank during pregnancy. Who's really to blame here? I don't want to blame mothers, but are we to blame the baby?

spiffylion4 karma

Hi Dr. Raine, Thank you for doing this AMA! Do you have any suggestions for someone interested in finding out whether a career in criminology would be right for them? What peaked your interest in the field? Thanks!

adrian_raine12 karma

Want to volunteer in our lab for the summer? You can get in touch with us.

spiffylion3 karma

I would love to! Who should I get in contact with to get more details on this? Thank you again!

adrian_raine3 karma

You can email us at [email protected]

Flying_Cunnilingus4 karma

What other titles, if any, did you consider for your book?

adrian_raine9 karma

"Unlocking Crime: The Biosocial Keys" and also "Seeds of Sin: The Biological Roots of Crime"

soulteepee4 karma

What is your stance on the recent speculation that lead contained in paints, mini-blinds, etc contributed to the high incidence of crime in the 70s and 80s?

adrian_raine6 karma

The data I saw was quite impressive. It's argued that 91% of the rise and fall in violent crime from the 1970s until today can be accounted for by changes in lead levels in the environment. Of course, these data are correlational and we cannot jump to causation from even these strong trends.

avq3 karma

for researcher Rick Nevin's argument that causation can be inferred from this correlation: (PDF) Lead and Crime: Why this correlation does mean causation

adrian_raine5 karma

I'll have to read it. Thanks for the posting!

Deus_Ex_Corde4 karma

Hello Dr. Raine,

What is your stance on rehabilitation vs retribution? If your theory is true and there are people predisposed to criminal behavior with extremely high recidivism rates what can be done to treat them? Also, how do you deal with the social-Darwinism-esque implications of your theory when you look at the incarceration rates of minorities in America? Or does it all even out when you account for SES?

Thank you.

adrian_raine8 karma

Good questions. On the first one- I think there are some interventions that can work with adult offenders. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is useful for example. I have speculated on omega-3 based on two randomized control trials which show that this nutritional supplement is effective in reducing serious offending in prison.

On your next question, you are right that there are higher rates of incarceration for minorities. It seems reasonable to chalk this up to poverty, bad neighborhoods, and other social inequities in society.

avq4 karma

Does your research risk misuse by policymakers who will say "we don't care if its not their fault, this person who has committed a violent act who we've scanned/genotype (or w/e it is) has a biological risk of reoffending, and must be removed from society"?

adrian_raine4 karma

Great question! There is always a potential for misuse of research and that is something I wanted to highlight in the last chapter. At the same time, we carry out risk assessments everyday in making probation and parole decisions. That is, right now we use social and behavioral factors to try and predict who is going to commit a crime in the future and keep in prison those who we think are dangerous. If we add biological predictors into the equation in the future, prediction accuracy can only get better. I think everyone would be better served by more accurate decision-making.

avq2 karma

would everyone? What about those determined by the actuarial risk assessments to pose a greater risk?

E.g., in Virginia's risk assessment sentencing, an unmarried man in his mid-20s is almost assured to be incarcerated, by virtue of the actuarial model.

Even more starkly, the state noted that the model would be even more accurate if it used race as a predictive factor. Aren't there harms of some accurate but troubling models?

EDIT: upshot of my question is … don't you have to count the people being put into prison as part of "everyone"?

adrian_raine3 karma

Really good point. We don't use race as a predictive factor in making probation and parole decisions because it is discriminatory. But putting that aside, if we can make more accurate decisions, including accurately identifying somebody who is at risk to society, who we would not otherwise have identified, don't we potentially save lives? Right now we have false positives, and all I'm really saying is that's a good thing to try to reduce the false positives (as well as the false negatives).

SchindlerTheGrouch4 karma

Is is possible to argue that violence is natural? That is a part of being a human?

Could all violent traits ebb and disappear as society evolves?

Could we in the future genetically breed out violent instincts in everyone?

adrian_raine13 karma

Not exactly. Aggression in some situations can certainly be adaptive and certainly is a part of being human. Without reactive aggression, for example, where we fight back, we would just become victims.

I do agree that violence may at least diminish over time. Stephen Pinker has clearly documented that violence has gone down over the centuries. And I think that trend will indeed continue into the future. So, I don't think we have to breed it out!

Your name is Schindler- reminds me of Oscar Schindler and his courage in the face of adversity in fighting the Nazis at great risk to himself. So we need some degree of dominance/aggression/fight in society.

danton493 karma

Dr. Raine: As someone who's very interested in philosophy and especially ethics, I'm curious how your research has influenced your own understanding of morality and right & wrong. Thanks.

adrian_raine4 karma

The research of my graduate student Andrea Glenn comes to mind here who studied moral decision making in psychopaths. One moral dilemma involves whether you would sacrifice one person to save five- that would be utilitarian moral decision-making. When thinking this through, I was on the verge of making the decision to sacrifice that person. But before I answered, I realized that in that social context I just could not do it. But would I kill Hitler to save 6 million Jews? I think I would. Does make me a monster?

blackplague13 karma

It seems like teenaged mass shootings are on the rise. Are they a "modern" phenomenon-- that is, why are "modern" teenagers more likely to turn into mass killers than previous generations?

adrian_raine12 karma

Actually, the rate of mass killings has been stable for several decades. They are not on the rise at all. Surprising, I know.

This brings us to whether schools are safe enough for kids. I firmly believe they are. A child is twice as likely to die from being struck by lightening as to be killed in a school shooting. They are fifty times more likely to die by suicide. And I sometimes think that schools for some are a lot safer than their homes.

qcj3 karma

our actual criminal justice system is often pretty impervious to the use of, you know, evidence, to improve its pathologies. So we keep having, for example, mandatory minimum sentences despite centuries of evidence they basically don't work, and we try to deter criminal behavior in other ways not supported by any evidence.

Lots of this is driven by politics, tough on crime, etc. How do we change that?

adrian_raine4 karma

"Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." That was Tony Blair's mantra in England during his election campaign. You are quite right a lot of this is driven by the need to win votes. But let's ask why it works? It's because I think fundamentally the average person in society wants to be protected and wants zero tolerance to murder, rape, and pedophilia. So if we want to change this, do we have to change human nature?

BuddhaWithABraOn3 karma

Are you for/against capital punishment? Why?

adrian_raine9 karma

I would not use the words for/against. I would not be ruled out from the jury in a death penalty case. I think for many people in society, particularly the victims, there is a need for retribution and a sense of closure. Because I had my throat cut in Turkey, I felt that need acutely. That incident changed my perspective on the death penalty and gave me an appreciation for a point of view I had never held before. I do think, however, that restorative justice (where the offender and victim meet each other to achieve reconciliation) could take the place ultimately of capital punishment.

itsmeipromise3 karma

Dr. Raine - thanks for doing the AMA - what is your take on the current prison system in the USA? If you were able - what changes would you implement?

Also - what is your opinion on crimes that are illegal here in the USA but not illegal in other countries -- in other words - actions that depending on the social view, are either fine or not fine -- like drug use, prostitution, statutory rape?


adrian_raine8 karma

We're bursting at the seams. Prisons don't rehabilitate. And I think we can do more treatment work with drug offenders who pose somewhat less of a risk to society.

Your second question is intriguing and invokes societal norms. When in Rome do as the Romans! What I find confusing about America are the different laws that exist across states. We are supposed to know the law but do we really.

maxbase3 karma

Due to the professions of my parents I've had conversations with a lot of developmental psychologists. Many would argue that a lack of love and nurture at birth and throughout the early stages of development often leads to "bad behaviour" later in life.

They say this is due to the fact that as humans have evolved their brains have gotten bigger and as such a large amount of brain development takes place outside the womb and due to that it is important to raise a child in a good environment, would you agree with these claims?

adrian_raine5 karma

I absolutely agree that good parenting, especially in the early years of life, is critical for positive brain development. Indeed, I suspect that criminal behavior is partly a "neurodevelopmental" disorder- the brain is not developing normally throughout childhood and adolescence. Lack of love and nurture, as you say, can critically affect brain development during this time.

ArcadianMess2 karma

Dr. Raine, should we treat murderers(or perpetrators of other violent crimes) as sick people?

adrian_raine5 karma

I think murderers with documented social and biological risk factors for violence should be treated in a different way to murderers lacking these risk factors. In some ways, I view violence like mental illness- there are biological, social, and genetic factors which shape violence just like they shape depression and anxiety. And I think in the future that we will reconceptualize recidivistic violence as a clinical disorder.

ArcadianMess2 karma

Thank you for your answer. And for this AMA.

In your opinion in which situation should we conclude that the displayed violent behavior isn't influenced by any factor other than the perpetrator's will(and reason) and therefore prosecute him/her and not look for a treatment(or medical assistance).

adrian_raine3 karma

I think a point will come in the future where we will do a much better job of being able to document for each individual offender whether they do or do not have the social, psychological, and biological risk factors for crime. Let's assume free will for a minute. Perhaps there are some people who freely choose to commit evil. Then wouldn't you think that they should be punished, and not treated?

rocknrollercoaster2 karma

Hey Dr. Raine. I'm currently reading "The Anatomy of Human Aggressiveness" by Erich Fromm. Would you say that biological explanations for criminal behaviour are based on ignoring the social realities that spur aggressive tendencies in human beings? Just what is the extent of biology on criminal behaviour vs. social conditions?

adrian_raine3 karma

I don't think we need to ignore the social reality to invoke biological explanations for aggression. Social realities can change the brain just as much as genes.

I think the balance is close to 50-50 in terms of biology vs. social processes.

Zamr2 karma

Hi Raine.

I havent yet read your book but i have a big interest in psychopathology and neural science. Whereby i would like to ask you:

Usually (if i remember correctly) males are widely over represented in the field of violent behaviour, serial killings etc. Do you think this is due to social or biological factors (or a bit of both, in which case most of what?)? Is the testosterone pruning of our brain in fetal stage to blame?

adrian_raine5 karma

I think biology can partly explain the gender difference in violence. Males have higher testosterone (prenatally and circulating), lower resting heart rates, and reduced volume in orbitofrontal grey matter. All these factors are associated with antisocial behavior. This does not rule out social contributions to the gender difference in crime.

Eloth2 karma

Do you have a favourite colour?

adrian_raine8 karma

I love your question! I love red. I used to have a red Mazda Miata when I lived in Los Angeles. And I so miss that convertible! My boys are bugging me for one. Red was on the front cover of my book and that made me so pleased.

Rachmaninov432 karma

Hey Dr Raine, I read about your book last night in the Sunday times culture magazine, very good review. The thing about low resting heart rates was particularly intriguing.

adrian_raine3 karma

I have not read that article! Pleased the review was a good one! And yes, I have always found the heart rate-antisocial link fascinating, but I'm still not sure that we really know why heart rate does predispose to aggression. However, my graduate student Jill Portnoy has documented that stimulation-seeking theory, rather than fearlessness theory may be at the heart of the matter!

Rachmaninov432 karma

It was the main review and was coupled with the famous image of Jack Nicholson peering through the door from The Shining, looking less than sane.

Can you elaborate a little on Jill Portnoy's line of thought?

adrian_raine1 karma

I need to see that movie! Would you believe I still haven't seen it! But I did see the "red rum" clip.

CaptainRallie2 karma

Hi Doctor Raine. I have to admit I am not familiar with your work, but I may have to look into it - I'm a graduate student doing research on incarceration in the US within the field of critical medical anthropology. I'm curious about one of the questions you posted - is biology destiny. Is this a claim to genetics as the main determinant of future behaviors, or of the biology of a person in general (taking into account ecosyndemic factors as well)?

Also, how do you account for the issue of scientific universalism (as described by Wallerstein as well as various writers and theorists in the Subaltern Studies collective) in your work?

adrian_raine4 karma

You know far more about anthropology than me and I cannot answer your second question. But on your first point, I believe biology is not destiny. We can change early biological risk factors for violence.

focusingin2 karma


adrian_raine3 karma

Yes, a quick fix will be a mirage. But right now we don't have any fix at all. I think the best we can hope for is a slow gradual "fix" and I think that by bringing biology into the equation we will achieve that gradual fix sooner than if we turned our backs on this biological knowledge.

Shirazi15172 karma

Hi Professor Raine.

I just finished your book. Thanks for writing - it was very illuminating.

I'd like to ask a question however about the evolution of psychopathy. You mentioned a particular tribe in the Amazon whose culture provided an environment in which psychopathy could theoretically confer an evolutionary advantage. I'd like to ask whether any neurobiological studies of these tribespeople have been carried out in a way that might offer evidence to support this hypothesis.

I'd also like to ask why we need an evolutionary advantage hypothesis at all when it comes to psychopathy - is there any reason not to think it occurs spontaneously, because of brain deficits, or surpluses in functioning in some parts of the brain, due to random mutation, or because of environmental effects (including in the womb), or because of learned behaviour as a result of growing up in a particular environmental context (eg the Amazon one).


adrian_raine2 karma

To my knowledge, there have not been neurobiological studies of these particular tribespeople.

On your second point, I agree with you that an evolutionary perspective is not essential for my key argument. There is an overwhelming body of evidence from genetics, neurochemistry, brain imaging, etc. to document a biological basis to crime and violence.

And thank you for your kind words on the book!

mimudidama2 karma

How are you qualifying "psychopathic"? Don't we need both a reliable epistemology and a well developed ontology in order to conclude on the implications of material evidence? I realize that. Structural realism is the dominant perspective in the philosophy of science currently, but with something like neurological data, something so complex and particular, doesn't the fragile structure configure the result on the macro level in some way? The way all of this data is presented seems to imply that there is a definite causal mechanism being understood, which is dubious to me, because on the one level determinists like to dismantle the identity of an act and devalue whole action in favor of its constitutive parts e.g. not human making something called a choice, but a physical motion manifest some form of motion and affecting other motions in physical space. Then on another level, you guys write books like anatomy of violence which appeals to some normative valuation of ethics and qualifies criminal action based on an ethics which uses some kind of identity predicate like human, criminal, violence, disgust. It seems hypocritical to ignore epistemological and ontological contradictions like this. Why does the ethical system around scientific research so often seem to appeal to a normative, common sense ethics, while the physical research is dedicated to dismantling normative, folk visions of biological causality?

adrian_raine3 karma

The aim of my book is not to dismantle people's folk visions of biological causality, and my goal is not to question the ethical system around scientific research. Indeed, after coming to the University of Pennsylvania 6 years ago, I became very interested in ethical issues which is one reason why I highlight ethical dilemmas in my last chapter. I hope this partly answers your question.

SmallsE2 karma

Thank you for taking the time to do this! I'm a lowly undergraduate studying the biological basis of addiction, which of course means that my knowledge base is extremely minimal compared to some others in this thread so please bare with me. My classes right now are centered around the concept of low stimulation and hypofrontality, which it looks like someone has brought up. Your response to this person's question led me to believe that the low stimulation argument might be highly disputed. What are your thoughts on this?

adrian_raine3 karma

Don't feel so lowly! I was a B+ undergraduate.

Fair point. Stimulation-seeking at best is only one of MANY factors that predispose to antisocial behavior. But even if it can reliably explain 3% of the variance it is of theoretical value.

avq2 karma

Crime and violent crime are way down...did our biology get better, and if so, how?

adrian_raine3 karma

Perhaps. We now have better nutrition, our environments are much more stimulating and enriched than they used to be (which I suspect will enhance brain functioning), and environmental toxins have reduced.

aek672 karma

Thanks for the AMA!

To what extent (if any) do you think exposure to violent video games influences real-world violence? I'd love to hear an expert's take on it.

adrian_raine2 karma

Great question. See my response above.

Porkfried2 karma

If your conclusion is accepted, what impact would you like to see from it in terms of how society treats violent offenders?

adrian_raine3 karma

I think we should vigorously pursue benign, biological intervention and prevention programs to remediate these risk factors.

A_Lurker_Once_Was_I2 karma

Hello Dr. Raine,

Which would you argue is the more reasonable statement:

Some people are just born violent


Some people are born with genes that make them more vulnerable to become violent.

adrian_raine5 karma

The latter!

deadleeaims2 karma

Hi Dr. Raine,

Thank you for answering my other questions so thoroughly!

What are the books or research articles that influenced you the most early on in your career?

Do you have any advice for graduate students interested in a research career studying psychopaths and criminal behavior?

adrian_raine2 karma

Thanks for your continuing questions. On your last question, I would try and publish as much as you can in order to put yourself in a competitive position for an academic job.

The book that really influenced me when I was an undergraduate student was "Crime and Personality" by Hans Eysenck. It was a fascinating account of biological contributions to crime causation. I was lucky enough to meet him after I gave my very first conference talk and he strongly encouraged me to keep up the work I was doing. That really had a big influence on me.

ProfessorPaulKrugman2 karma

I'm not sure if you're still here. Anywho, I was thinking about this last night and then stumbled on your AMA.

If we allow a defense attorney to argue that someone can not be held responsible for their crimes because of their mental state at the time of the crime, does it make sense that we can not hold someone who was high on meth, alcohol, or cocaine (etc) for any crimes committed while not in a sound state of mind?

I suppose the argument would be that their mental state was not something they could control prior to the crime like you could choose not to drink, not to smoke crack, etc. But what if this is a long time addiction, that must be fed?

Sorry if my question is confusing. I'd just like to hear your opinion on the ethics and philosophy of this situation.

adrian_raine2 karma

Alcoholics and drug addicts are responsible for their addiction. If their addiction results in them committing crimes, they have to be held accountable. But the tricky question is whether they were genetically predisposed to making the decision to abuse drugs. We do know that there is a strong genetic basis to substance abuse. So are they really accountable?

jakekidd102 karma

Would you blame the gun or the shooter?

adrian_raine3 karma

Genes put the bullets in the gun. The environment cocks the gun, but the person decides whether to pull the trigger. So genes and environment do shape the predisposition to violence. But if we believe in free will, don't we have to blame the shooter and punish him/her accordingly?

Having said that, if there are people wandering around with loaded cocked guns all the time, someone for sure is going to get shot, whether they actively made the decision or not.

infernalbear2 karma

You mentioned that you believe it's useful to address biological differences between men and women in learning what causes people to commit crimes. Do you believe other uncontrollable biological factors can influence behavior as well, specifically race/ethnicity? Does your book address this topic?

adrian_raine3 karma

There are certainly ethnic differences in rates of violence. My book does not address this topic. Perhaps it should have, but it is a very controversial area and I do not know of good research that could be summarized. It is a research area where neurocriminologists have feared to tread.

Fenderr0xx2 karma

Hey Dr. Raine, I'm currently studying both criminal justice and psychology at La Salle...not too far away from UPenn. It was only this year that I have become aware of your work. For the last few months, I have attempted to sort out all sorts of fields where criminality and psychology intersect- ranging from studies done by Elizabeth Loftus to your work. Currently I'm developing my own small research study for the fall semester dealing with citizens perceptions of criminal behavior, particularly theft. I have not picked up your new book yet, however, I am planning on doing so. Are there any other readings/something I can get involved with that you may be able to recommend to get my feet wet with neurobiological/biosocial causes of criminality? Thanks!

adrian_raine3 karma

My book contains over 1000 references, so once you get started just tune in to those research papers that link to a topic you are finding interesting. Resting heart rate is the best replicated biological correlate of antisocial behavior in children and you yourself can measure it with a blood pressure and heart rate cuff from CVS pharmacy (I do not get a commission!).

adrian_raine3 karma

And I'm delighted to hear of your interest and enthusiasm! Thank you!

aidrocsid1 karma

Why a book rather than a study?

adrian_raine6 karma

Because I've already published over 300 studies and I got bored with it. Instead, I wanted to convey to the public the interest and excitement I have always had in my research. And try to encourage a new generation of young scientists to enter the field of neurocriminology.

MushashiMiyamoto1 karma

What do you think of the notion of violence for violence itself?

adrian_raine3 karma

There is often a reason for violence and I don't think it occurs in a social vacuum. I think violence for violence itself is rare.

Philfry21 karma

I bought your book the other day and I have yet to read it. Ah the timing!

adrian_raine2 karma

Just read the introduction- it says most of it!

FF761 karma

From the philosophical standpoint of whether violent offenders should be held responsible for their actions even if predisposed, I believe that they should; However, it would be more along the lines of treatment similar to how murderers that are dubbed insane will get psych treatment instead of going to jail. The the only purpose for punishment is to remedy the offender's behaviour so that the action will not occur in the future.

If bad biology is to blame for actions, then it needs to be addressed just like any other disease that prevents people from functioning in a normal society.

adrian_raine2 karma

I entirely agree with your last point. I do believe that recidivistic crime is a clinical disorder which can be addressed better than we are doing now. On your first point, I agree that we must protect society and that there can be parallels to prison where offenders with all the risk factors checked can be housed under more benign conditions than is currently the case. They should be allowed to vote and to reproduce.

[deleted]1 karma


adrian_raine1 karma

I would not say that mainstream criminology is "ridiculous." I do think there is a lot of good work in this area.

I do however agree with you that biosocial criminology is greatly underrepresented within the wider field of criminology. We know that 50% of the variance in antisocial behavior is under genetic control. Last year at the American Society of Criminology conference, out of more than 950 symposia, only 10 included anything on biological/genetic processes. This really needs to change if we are to make substantial progress in understanding and preventing crime.

alexyeahdude2 karma

Criminology... biological/genetic processes.

I really have to ask about this because what you seem to be saying flies in the face of everything I have learned about criminology*. Isn't the biological/genetic/positivist approach to crime pretty well debunked by this point? Crime is a social phenomenon, right? Why wouldn't you study it sociologically? What is the new biological approach to criminology, and what evidence is there to support it?

* I have a degree in social policy, my dissertation was on anti-social behaviour.

adrian_raine3 karma

Read my book! There is a lot more to the causes of crime than social phenomenon, but you have to open your mind to the evidence. I try to lay it all out to you in a form that is readable to somebody studying social policy.

RobBobGlove1 karma

would drastic eugenics solve the problem of problem of violence?If yes,can we do that without sacrificing other traits that are considered positive in some cases(being aggressive,assertive,dominant etc)

adrian_raine4 karma

No, I don't believe that drastic eugenics would ever solve the problem of violence. Genes probably at best account for 50-60% of the variation in violence and crime. And, I agree with you that something would be lost from society if we could eradicate risk factors for violence like fearlessness which we desperately need in our military.

ChrisRoberts70 karma

Dear Dr. Raine, In truth, violence exists only as an exaggerated juxtaposition that cancels comparatives out. Do you believe this is so? Thank you, Chris Roberts

adrian_raine1 karma

Can you clarify your question a little please.

ChrisRoberts71 karma

In other words, how is one to account for or measure random violence as opposed to premeditation of same.

adrian_raine5 karma

There are 2 main forms of violence- one is reactive aggression where you are hitting out at somebody who has hurt you. The other is proactive aggression where you use violence as a means to an end. In our brain imaging research we have found reactive aggression to be characterized by poor functioning of the prefrontal cortex- the part that regulates impulsive behavior. But we still have a lot to learn about the neurobiology of premeditated aggression. I suspect amygdala dysfunction may play a role.

lacrosstitute0 karma

Get me into Crim 100? Penn intouch wont give it to me.

adrian_raine6 karma

I believe it is taught this summer and it will also be taught in the fall. Jill Portnoy is also offering a course on Psychological Criminology this summer if that's of interest. She's really great- spread the word!

Slaughtersun-3 karma

Do you believe that it's possible that genes for antisocial behavior are more common in some races than in others?

For instance, crime rates have historically been very low in scandinavian countries. Why is that?

Why are crime rates uniformly the highest in black majority nations?


adrian_raine7 karma

Recent research by one of my graduate students has been trying to explain differences across countries in rates of aggression in children. She finds that she can almost entirely explain away racial differences in aggression by accounting for social risk factors.

On your second question, income inequality explains a lot of the differences in homicide rates across countries. For example, income inequality is high, as is homicide.

Can we entirely rule genetics out? In theory, I don't think we can, but there has been almost no research on this and any research would be highly controversial and may do more harm than good.

Slaughtersun-8 karma

I'm wondering about genes for aggression, not social causes. Social risk factors are the extended phenotype.

there has been almost no research on this and any research would be highly controversial and may do more harm than good.

Telling the truth might do more harm than good? Some of us value the truth.

Blacks are the single most criminal demographic in the world and you are telling me that research into the genetic basis for their absurdly violent, sociopathic behavior might do more harm than good?

More harm than good for whom? Certainly not for the white people who are robbed, carjacked, gangraped and murdered by blacks every year.

adrian_raine6 karma

Well, that's the opinion of a number of criminologists who have told me more harm than good will ever come of genetic research on crime. Their logic is apply that to race differences and even more harm would occur.

You focus on harm to white people, but bear in mind that the very large majority of violent offenses are intra-racial. So the people who in relative terms are at greatest risk for violence are the racial group that you single out here.

ChrisRoberts7-5 karma

I break mailboxes at night. I steal from my ma's purse for candy money. I wear a leather jacket & I'm ten. Can I be saved?

adrian_raine5 karma

I used to be just like you. When I was between the ages of 9 and 11. I used to let the air out of tires. I used to set fires. I was in a gang, and I smoked cigarettes. But now I study crime, rather than doing it. So we can all change. And I'm sure you can, too. We can control our futures. You just have to decide you want to change. It's up to you.