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Brain Scans Distinguish Between Violence and Drug Abuse

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(ESSEN, Germany) -- Brain scans have in the past been used by researchers to see differences in the brain activity between psychopaths and people with "normal" brain function. Now a new study aims to see whether a similar process could distinguish differences in brain structure between violent individuals and those whose violent behavior may be explained by lifelong substance abuse.

Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany scanned the brains of violent and non-violent men with and without histories of substance abuse and found that compared with non-offenders, violent offenders had larger brain volume in the areas of the brain that process emotions such as anger and pleasure.  They also tended to score higher on test of aggression.  But substance abusers had lower brain volumes than  non-users in the regions of the brain involved with inhibiting impulsive behavior.  And not surprising to experts, they scored higher on tests of impulsivity.

Although it may be tempting to conclude that these structural differences in the brain provide a possible biological explanation of why certain offenders commit violent acts, this study only shows an association between the brain structure and behavior.  We're therefore left with the conundrum,  did the brain volume difference lead to the change in behavior, or did lifestyles alter brain structure?

Their research was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

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