4 Investigates: New Mexico study aims to unlock the brains of murderers, prevent violence | KOB 4

4 Investigates: New Mexico study aims to unlock the brains of murderers, prevent violence

Nathan O'Neal
October 06, 2019 10:45 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A study mapping the brains of New Mexico prisoners is giving new insight into the minds of people who kill.


At the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, Dr. Kent Kiehl is diving deep inside the minds of murderers.

“For such a big problem it's really surprising that this is the first study of its kind,” Dr. Kiehl said.

Dr. Kiehl is a neuroscientist and psychologist. He and his team designed a mobile brain scanner to study inmates in New Mexico and Wisconsin.

Over the past decade, they have conducted MRI scans of nearly a thousand prisoners to examine the difference between brains of killers versus non-killers.

“The brains are quite different and in fact they're pretty reliably different —surprisingly different,” Dr. Kiehl said.

In his latest study, Dr.Kiehl’s team found that sections of the brain that are responsible for controlling emotions, impulses, and social awareness are less developed in killers.

This isn’t the only probe into the brains of homicidal people.

More than 1,000 miles away at Stanford University is the brain of Stephen Paddock. Paddock was the gunman who opened fire on a crowd of concert goers in Las Vegas from a high-rise hotel two years ago. He killed 58 people in the attack.

“It was hand delivered to me by the coroner,” said Dr. Honnes Vogel, Director of Neuropathology at Stanford.

Dr. Vogel examined the shooter’s brain for abnormalities.

“I think we're getting there in terms of finding areas of the brain that may explain homicidal behavior,” he said.

Vogel found what could be described as a type of scarring of the brain tissue in Paddock’s brain. The scarring is similar to that of a brain with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but it is still unclear how or why it forms.

“The quasi-scarring process in the brain was higher than the average 60-something-year-old male, but the significance of it is totally unknown,” Dr.Vogel said.

That sort of scarring was found in key parts of Stephen Paddock’s brain that are associated with emotion, anger and decision making.

In New Mexico, Dr. Kiehl continues to work to identify people prone to homicidal behavior, but he is quick to point out that his research does not predict whether someone will commit murder.

“Prevention—that is the ultimate goal,” Dr. Kiehl said.

Kiehl said he hopes his work will be key in developing therapy or medicine that could one day reduce the risk of dangerous behavior.

This approach to brain scanning has raised some ethical concerns, specifically when it comes to profiling people based on their brain differences.

Even so, Dr. Kiehl said he has received calls from parents across the country who want to get their kids tested.


Nathan O'Neal

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