Recurrent Criminal Behavior and Executive Dysfunction

By Barbosa, Manuel Fernando Santos; Monteiro, Luis Manuel Coelho | The Spanish Journal of Psychology, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Recurrent Criminal Behavior and Executive Dysfunction


Barbosa, Manuel Fernando Santos, Monteiro, Luis Manuel Coelho, The Spanish Journal of Psychology


Objective: To experimentally test the hypothesis that people who repeatedly participate in forms of non-violent crime exhibit an executive deficit detected in tests of high ecological validity, having changes in prefrontal functioning as neurophysiologic basis.

Participants and Methods: A battery to assess executive dysfunction was administered - the Behavioural Assessment of the Dysexecutive Syndrome (BADS) -to an experimental group of 30 inmates convicted of crimes against property (mean age = 39.3, SD =9.98), and a control group of 30 (mean age = 32.7, SD = 11.8), all male.

Results: The group of recurrent inmates performed significantly worse than the control group in their global scores on the battery, as well as in the majority of subscales. Conclusion: Without removing from consideration the fact that sample size was not very large and, primarily, alerting ourselves to the dangerous hypothesis of a "frontal criminogenesis," the authors interpret criminal recurrence and resistance to penal measures in terms of the scarcity of control that individuals from the experimental group have over their behavior and its respective consequences.

Keywords: criminal recurrence; criminal behavior, neuropsychology, executive dysfunction

Objetivo: Verificar experimentalmente la hipótesis de que las personas que participan repetidamente en delitos no violentos exhiben un déficit ejecutivo en pruebas de alta validez ecológica, y cambios en su funcionamiento prefrontal como substrato neurofisiológico.

Participantes y Métodos: Se administró una batería para evaluar la disfunción ejecutiva - el Behavioural Assessment of the Dysexecutive Syndrome (BADS) -a un grupo experimental de 30 presos condenados por crímenes contra la propiedad (edad = 39,3, DT = 9,98) y a un grupo control de 30 personas (edad = 32.7, DT =11.8), todos varones.

Resultados: el grupo de presos reincidentes obtuvieron puntuaciones significativamente peores que las del grupo control en la batería, así como en la mayoría de las subescalas. Conclusión: sin dejar de considerar el hecho de que ninguna de las muestras era de tamaño muy grande y, especialmente alertando acerca de la hipótesis peligrosa de una "criminogénesis frontal", los autores interpretan le reincidencia criminal y la resistencia a las normas del código penal en términos de la falta de control que los individuos del grupo experimental tienen sobre su comportamiento y sus consecuencias respectivas.

Palabras clave: reincidencia criminal, comportamiento criminal, neuropsicología, disfunción ejecutiva

Neuropsychological research about crime has focused on the search for evidence of neurological dysfunction that could contribute to understanding antisocial behavior in general, and of criminal behavior in particular, especially when that conduct is recurrent.

The majority of researchers that conduct neuropsychological studies of transgressors have primarily concentrated on the anterior regions of the brain, more specifically, areas of the prefrontal lobe. These areas are directly involved in the highest mental functions such as selective attention, working memory, action-planning competency, forethought, self-control and, at the most basic level, the regulation of the affectiveemotional life. Thus, the study of these functions has enormous relevance to understanding not only the behavioral changes associated with various pathologies, but also, although for different reasons, the conduct that deviates from social norms.

If we had to summarize the results of frontal lobe neuropsychological research, we would say that considered on the whole, studies suggest that there is neuropsychological dysfunction associated with crime in general, even if evidence of prefrontal dysfunction shows greater consistency among inmates incarcerated for violent crimes (Barbosa, 2001).

In other words, the results of neuropsychological and psychophysiological studies (Marques-Teixeira, 2000; Barbosa, 2001) tend to demonstrate that prefrontal dysfunction is characteristic of antisocial behavior in general - a marker for persistent, criminal behavior. …

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