Shivani Talati | 28 September 2017

India: Being a law student, you learn about the types of punishment which can be inflicted upon a wrong doer or in a general sense, a criminal, one of these is the reformative theory of punishment. The reformative theory of punishment is conceptualized on the idea that one commits a crime because of the immoral/corrupt experiences that he/she has had earlier on in his/her life.

This theory goes on to say that although a criminal is a threat to society, the very society is what would’ve forced a person to commit crime. Therefore, instead of inflicting pain upon a criminal, what the reformative theory states is that criminals should be sent to rehabilitation centres or provided with the right education to deter them from committing such crimes in future.

Having said that, society cannot be held completely responsible for a person’s criminal acts. Sometimes it’s how a person’s brain is wired that determines his/her act of commission or omission.

Studying about the amygdala (a part of brain responsible for emotions of fear, aggression and social interactions) a study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania is interesting to note. The researchers examined fear conditioning, which is dependent on amygdala function, in a group of 1,795 3-year-olds. The researchers put electrodes on the children's fingers while repeatedly playing two tones: one was played alone while the other was followed by a loud, unpleasant sound. Each toddler’s fear conditioning was measured by the subsequent difference in sweat responses to each tone.

Twenty years later, the team identified participants who had gone on to commit crimes and compared them with their innocent counterparts, matching them on gender, ethnicity and social adversity. They found that the children (from the study) who went on to commit crimes had "simply failed" to demonstrate fear conditioning. In other words, they were fearless when most of us would be fearful. This finding suggests that deficits in the amygdala, which can be indirectly identified as early as age 3, predispose to crime at age 23.

 Biology is not destiny. We can change the biological roots of crime and violence” - Adrian Raine, DPhil, of the department of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The challenge is to understand how the mind of a criminal works and take steps to provide solutions. When amongst the crowd, criminals are just like any other being but the functioning of their brain is what puts them behind the bars. Though a crime is a crime and the criminal should be punished for the same; our major focus should be on reducing such crimes. Thus, understanding the behavioural patterns of the criminals can help in their reformation and considerably reduce crimes.