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Friday, December 26, 2014

Neuroscience reveals detail of killer kids

University researchers have published a study revealing that children and adolescents who have committed homicide often have physical abnormalities in the brain.

The study comes in the wake of the fatal beating of two Albuquerque homeless men, which was allegedly committed by three teenagers.

The study, titled “Abnormal Brain Structure in Youth Who Commit Homicide,” revealed that youths age 12 to 18 who commit homicides tend to have different brains than juvenile offenders who have not killed.

UNM Psychology Associate Professor and MRN Executive Science Officer Dr. Kent Kiehl, who is the principal author of the research, said people took interest in the subject matter once the incident involving the three teen occurred.

“That drew attention, why someone would do that” Kiehl said.

The researchers did brain scans of 20 male adolescents who had committed homicides and were incarcerated in maximum-security juvenile facilities around New Mexico, he said.

These scans were compared with brain scans of 135 other juvenile offenders who had not committed homicides, Kiehl said. The research found that some grey matter density areas of the brain that control emotions and cognition were less dense among the individuals who had committed homicide compared with the individuals who had not.

“We used a sophisticated algorithm that enabled us to say with 80 percent accuracy which kid committed homicide and which didn’t,” Kiehl said. “So if you have a child you found out has abnormalities in those systems, then you might be able to develop treatment programs which will train and develop those systems so that they would not act in such a way that will result in someone dying.”

Kiehl said he believes the research has opened many avenues for further research in the area. He hopes the findings will lead scientists to better understand at-risk kids and help prevent them from committing crimes.

“Our research was designed to try to help understand if there is anything we can do as scientists to help develop a better treatment or a way of preventing those crimes,” he said.

Sayyed Shah is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @mianfawadshah.