I’ve been home sick, and rather than watch the entire Downton Abbey Series, I fell into the world of Investigation Discovery (ID) Canada. This true crime drama channel, which has shows on crime, police, missing persons, and revenge. I prefer watching some of those shows to the crime dramas like CSI (any version) because the crimes are true, and some of them truly are stranger than fiction.
One show in particular always catches my attention: Born to Kill?
As they recount the journey of many killers, from the DC sniper to Jeffrey Dahmer, the criminologists and psychologists generally state that these killers were born to it. Their hypotheses are usually based on how the person was raised, the coincidental meetings that culminate into a deadly encounter, and the lack of empathy that these people inevitably show. Essentially, its their way of explaining these killers to the public, to placate them that this wouldn’t happen to just any body.
But, what actual evidence to we have that people are in fact Born to Kill? And, is this just another nature vs nurture debate?
Enter the PBS show Nova. This Wednesday (February 20, 2013 at 9pm EST) the episode titled Mind of a Rampage Killer, a series looking at the effects of the Newtown shootings. The preview suggests that in brain scans that scientists can actually tell the physicial differences in a killer’s brain. They even point to MRIs showing brain function and the connections between them. I know the entire series isn’t based on this, but it reminded me of the science of phrenology and pshysiognomony.
According to Wikipedia, phrenology is:
is a pseudoscience primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. The distinguishing feature of phrenology is the idea that the sizes of brain areas were meaningful and could be inferred by examining the skull of an individual. Following the materialist notions of mental functions originating in the brain, phrenologists believed that human conduct could best be understood in neurological rather than philosophical or religious terms. Developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796, the discipline was very popular in the 19th century, especially from about 1810 until 1840.
What I find interesting about the brain map provided by the Wikipedia Entry, is how similar it is to current maps of our brain, where we see which lobes produce what actions, our thoughts, our compulsions, our desires etc.
MRIs are mapping our brain in new ways, and we are searching the patterns to determine if we have schizophrenia, if obsessions and compulsions can be measured, and even if we can see what the other person sees in real-time. But we are essentially trying to answer the same questions, over and over again.
What drives people to do what they do? Is it because they’ve ‘snapped’ or are they actually born to kill?
What I find really fascinating, is that while they may be able to discern connections between the brain, the way it works and our behaviour, science has already proven that our brains are malleable. Documentaries indicate that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and even Schizophrenia can be changed (and improved) within a brain. I’ve even seen a TV episode of Curiosity (on our Canadian Discovery Channel) where a hypnotist hypnotized a man into killing someone. The man thought it was true, even though the death and bullets were fake. (Incidentally, I really think they should follow-up with that person, given that he really thought he killed someone).
If our brains are so malleable, can we identify people born to kill? Or is the scan simply a snapshot of the way the brain is currently wired?
And, if brain scans can realistically identify killers before they kill, would regular scans be a part of our yearly physical?
Since I’m not an expert in this field, but simply fascinated by it, I’d love your thoughts on this topic.
Will you watch the show?
Have you had a brain scan? What was your experience?
Do you think people are born to kill? Do you think we can even tell if people are? Do you think science is getting closer to determining it?