The bad intentions that precede doing harm to someone are visible in the brain, researchers claim. A team from NYU Langone Medical Center have mapped the bad intent of mice and believe the same can be done for humans.
Mapping evil in the brain
This is the first time that negative intentions (stalking, bullying, sexual aggression) have been mapped in a part of the brain, in the hypothalamus, the brain region that also controls body temperature, hunger and sleep in mammals.
“Our study pinpoints the brain circuits essential to the aggressive motivations that build up as animals prepare to attack,” says study senior investigator Dayu Lin, PhD, an assistant professor at the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone.
The hypothalamus is a remarkable area of the brain containing a small number of nuclei with a variety of functions. The hypothalamus has a central neuroendocrine function, releasing and storing hormones as needed. While past studies by the team had linked aggressive actions to this part of the brain, no one has actually tracked the negative intention.
In the experiment mice were trained to attack weaker mice. They were monitored to see how they attack and bully others. Researchers found that a specific area of the hypothalamus would always light up before an aggressive behavior, the ventromedial hypothalamus, or VMHv. Nerve cell activity in the VMHvl also increased by as much as tenfold after the more aggressive mice noticed the weaker mice.
So does this mean we can actually see violent intentions before they take place? In other words, are we heading for a minority report? Minority Report is a novel by Philip K. Dick and a film loosely based on it, in which “PreCrime”, a specialized police department, apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge. In this case, we wouldn’t foresee the future, but are we heading towards a future where we can monitor (and perhaps punish) people’s intention?
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According to Lin, the odds are pretty slim. Even conducting a similar study on humans “only a distant possibility, even if related ethical and legal issues could be resolved,” says Lin. However, he does believe that we could, after more research, try to target this area to correct violent behaviors.
“That said, our results argue that the ventrolateral part of the ventromedial hypothalamus should be studied further as part of future efforts seeking to correct behaviors from bullying to sexual predation.”