NEUROCRIMINOLOGY


 

R&R2 programs reflect a paradigm shift in criminology – a criminology informed by neuroscience. Neuroscience is yielding new knowledge of the brain at a remarkable pace that has major implications for understanding both antisocial behaviour and prosocial behaviour. This research has led to our development of a new model for interventions designed for the prevention and rehabilitation of antisocial behavior and the acquisition of prosocial competence: the "neurocriminology" model.

The "neurocriminology" model integrates recent research on neurodevelopment factors with knowledge on the social environmental factors, experiential factors, and cognitive/emotional factors that are known to be associated with antisocial behavior. R&R2 programs are designed to foster prosocial neurodevelopment. Neurocriminology is not a "Faulty Brain" model.  R&R2 programs focus not on undoing neurological damage but on promoting prosocial neurological development.

The neurocriminology model refines and extends the cognitive behavioural model based on recent empirical research not only on the relationship between antisocial behaviour and cognition; but also on the role of emotion in prosocial competence; the development of empathy; prosocial emotional values; research on desistance from an antisocial lifestyle and research in social cognitive neuroscience.

Cognition Is Not Enough:   Our executive functions monitor and can exert significant control of our thoughts and actions, including self-regulation, planning, cognitive flexibility and response inhibition. The development of cognitive skills enables important "top-down" control of our behaviour and our feelings. However, recent neuroscience research has indicated that antisocial behaviors such as aggression and violence are often associated with heightened ac­tivity deep in the brain and not just in the neo-cortex (the "rational" area of the brain). Thus, antisocial behaviors may not be readily amenable to cognitive interventions alone. The research has made it clear that we do not always operate in a deliberative manner.  Much of the time we function in an automatic mode that is neither deliberative nor even conscious.  More than cognitive training is required to strongly influence the automatic antisocial thoughts and the automatic emotions that are triggered in brain areas deeper than the prefrontal cortex.

Antisocial Development:    Antisocial neuronal networks can be developed early in brain develop­ment in childhood. All the observations we make and all the events that we experience create neuronal connections in our brain. Networks of brain cells store information from those observations and experiences. Thus, the brains of children who, for example, are raised in an environment of hostility, rejection, abuse and maltreatment or who experience consistent faillure in school or in their social activities have those experiences seared in their brains in neural networks that, for years, can trigger deep feelings of anxiety, fear, anger and hostility that can engender antisocial behavior but are relatively impervious to cognitive control. An antisocial identity can be 'hard-wired' in the brain.

Prosocial Neurodevelopment:   However, our brains are malleable. New connections are continually being created as our observations and experiences strenghen old connections or form new connections and confirm our identity or revise it. Even individuals with long histories of anti-social and criminal behavior can still acquire new neuronal connections and form new personal narratives. Their antisocial identity can become a prosocial identity.

Social cognitive neuroscience has developed an understanding how such new connections are formed and this understanding coupled with our recent understanding of the process of desistance, and an analysis of the benefits of prosocial role-taking activities in effective rehabilitation programs has led to the development of R&R2 programs that can help antisocial individuals develop new neural pathways that will engender prosocial feelings, thoughts and behaviour – and a prosocial identity.

The neurocriminology model is fully articulated in the book "Rehabilitating Rehabilitation: Neurocriminology for Treatment of Antisocial Behavior" (Ross & Hilborn, 2008) cognitivecentre@gmail.com