Here's a sad and chilling fact: There are roughly 17,000 murders committed in the United States every year. And now there's growing evidence that damaged brains may be a strong contributing factor leading to the most violent crimes.
Renowned neuroscientist Daniel Amen has scanned the brains of 75 convicted murderers in an attempt to understand what goes on inside the mind of a killer. What he found out could be a help to anyone who experiences dark, violent thoughts.
Utilizing advanced brain scan technology, Dr. Amen is able to pinpoint where violent tendencies originate.
"If you have problems with your temper, that really could come from a brain that's not firing properly," says Dr. Amen. "We've seen that when there are left temporal lobe problems, it goes with dark, evil, awful thoughts. And when your frontal lobes are hurt, you don't have a good ability to supervise the dark, evil, awful thoughts you have."
He says the brain of a violent person is clearly different from that of nonviolent people. He came to that conclusion after studying brain scans of 75 convicted murderers. One was a 63-year-old man who had no history of violence.
"He was having a conflict with his neighbor over trees on an easement," explains Dr. Amen. "And one morning, he hears the sound of a chainsaw. His neighbors are cutting down the tree branches. And he calls 911 ahead of time and he says, 'I'm going to go kill these people!' And he goes and he kills them. And they send him to me to scan. And if you look at his brain, he's got terrible function in the front part of his brain and in his temporal lobes."
Dr. Amen traced the killer's brain damage to a severe head injury he sustained years before.
"He's a demented man and so many people who do bad things have troubled brains. If you optimize their brain, you actually decrease their chances of repeating the crime," he explains.
Dr. Amen says you can usually optimize the brain through medication or dietary supplements. But that was not the case with his nine-year-old nephew, who was exhibiting extreme aggression and attacked a little girl at school.
"What we discovered is he had a cyst the size of a golf ball occupying the space of his left temporal lobe," says Dr. Amen.
After the cyst was surgically removed, the violent behavior disappeared completely.
"It's really that story that has given me the passion to do what I do. Since Andrew's case, we've seen 18 other kids who had cysts in their brains that were involved in violent behavior," he adds.
Dr. Amen hopes people with violent-prone brains can be helped long before they commit a violent crime.
"I get sad for all the kids who do bad things and people just think they're bad boys, or they're bad girls, or they have bad parents, when it's a brain problem that potentially could be fixed, either with medicine or supplements or, in some cases, surgery," he says. "Let's scan them; let's optimize brain function, and in that way you can then decrease the trouble in our society."
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