Amygdala Activity In Violent Offenders Essay Sample

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Violence, Psychology, Aliens, Aggression, Victimology, Behavior, Study, Actions

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/01/02


Anderson and Kiehl (2012) identify amygdala as a section of the human brain positioned to the left and right temporal lobes. The amygdala controls emotion memory and emotional expressions by linking them to other regions of the human brain (Hariri and Weinberger, 2009). Studies on animals and humans show that the presence of emotionally relevant stimuli activates one amygdala neuron. The middle nucleus of the amygdala helps the brain to express emotional reactions supported by aversive stimuli. The stimuli purposely generate fear responses, such as strident startling noises, heights, odors, scaring strangers, huge animals, or certain sounds. Researchers believe that violent offenders possess reduced amygdala activity. For instance, psychopathic individuals demonstrate low neural reaction to frightening stimuli, fewer psychological reactions, and less aversive conditioning when anticipating punishment or when envisioning aggressive events. However, the purpose of this paper is to review three journal articles on the criminology of amygdala, reduced amygdala activity on disruptive youths, and men with childhood aggression and early psychopathic traits. The paper will also show how the journals integrate and fit into the broader context.

The Criminology of the Amygdala

Amygdala fits into a broader context of criminology. This is evident in the article “The Criminology of the Amygdala” by Delisi, Umphress, and Vaughn (2009). The article reviews the anatomical position, functions, and connectivity of the amygdala and explores its function in a recently advanced psychopathy theory. It also illuminates amygdala anomalies in different populations and explores genetics study associated with amygdala functioning.
Delisi et al. (2009) relate amygdala to CU (callous unemotional) features, psychopathy, and antisocial conducts. Delisi et al. (2009) agree that people with damaged amygdala fail to identify terrified facial appearances despite being able to distinguish facial characteristics. Wright, Tibbetts and Daigle (2008) implicate amygdala to psychological conditions related to eating, sexual maternal and violent behaviors. The study discovered that the left amygdala respond to poignant and fear expressions. A landmark research by Davidson et al. (2000) implied that amygdala possesses a complex role in impulsive violence. The tangential nucleus of the amygdala receives personal behaviors connoting threat, such as attacking posture, intimidating vocalization, and ogling eyes and projects them to the basal nuclei. At the same time, information regarding the shared perspective resulting from the Orbitofrontal cortex projections integrates with the perceptual knowledge (Gao, Raine, Venables, Dawson and Mednick, 2010).
According to Blair (2010), the Amygdala Theory of Psychopathy states that psychopathic individuals portray low neural reaction to reduced psychological reactions to perceived threats, reduced shock reaction to aversive stimuli and concentrated aversive conditioning. The theory claims that these impairments remain consistent with normal amygdala dysfunction, therefore preventing violent offenders to process their victim’s fear and sadness. Decety, Michalska, Akitsuki, and Lahey (2009) claim that violent criminals fail to empathize with victims due to reduced amygdala essential for the creation of stimulus-strengthening and stimulus-reaction associations. Additionally, adolescents with behavioral disorder display reduced amygdala or prefrontal coupling after observing a person in pain. Frick and White (2008) and criminologists identify CU features as the most destructive risk facets for serious antisocial behavior. Whalen (2007) added that CU characteristics contribute distinctive and robust relationships with violent conducts withstanding the competing effects of onset behavior, violent beliefs, and impulsivity. Lastly, Delisi et al. (2009) article concluded that violent offenders fail to show remorse or empathy for their victims because of reduced amygdala activities.

Reduced Amygdala-Orbitofrontal Connectivity amongst Disruptive and Psychopathic Youths

As stated in the first article, individuals with reduced amygdala activity are likely to have violent tendencies in the future. The article “Reduced Amygdala–Orbitofrontal Connectivity during Moral Judgments in Youths with Disruptive Behavior Disorders and Psychopathic Traits" by Marsh, Finger, Fowler, Jurkowitz, Schechter, Yu, Spine supports that idea and identifies disruptive and psychopathic behaviors in adolescents. The researchers applied fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to explore amygdala and Orbitofrontal cortex dysfunction amongst disruptive and psychopathic adolescents. Marsh et al. (2011) also identified psychopathic attributes as irresponsibility, manipulativeness, lack of empathy and emotions, including lack of remorse.
Marsh et al. (2011) used 28 right-handed participants for the research: 14 participants with psychopathic features and ODD and 14 healthy adolescents. The researchers used referrals, fliers, ads, and newspaper to recruit the participants. Nevertheless, the study excluded participants with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), pervasive developmental disorder, head trauma history, depression, IQ below 80, neurological disorder, bipolar disorder, including separation, social, and generalized anxiety disorder. Substance abusers were also excluded from participating in the study. Marsh et al. (2011) discovered that adolescents with psychopathic features portrayed less amygdala receptiveness to lawful activities compared to their healthy counterparts.
A theory by Blair (2010) claims that amygdala and Orbitofrontal cortex dysfunction in psychotic youths disrupts their decision making. A study by Sterzer (2010) suggested that psychopathic murderers indicate a violent IAT (implicit association test) effect for aggressive actions. Violent offenders portray reduced relationship between the unpleasantness and the aggressive actions and between the pleasantness and the peaceful performances when compared to normal people (Loeber, Farrington, Stouthamer-Loeber and White, 2008).
Delisi et al. (2009) believe that psychotic youths are vulnerable to future violent behaviors. Coccaro, McCloskey, Fitzgerald and Phan (2007) argue that moral judgments reflect the role of the amygdala in stimulus-reinforcement knowledge. Amygdala enables the person to understand the wickedness and righteousness of deeds and provides strengthening expectancy knowledge to the Orbitofrontal cortex for decision-making. However, Kiehl (2006) explored psychopathic adults and adolescents and discovered that psychotic individuals possess dysfunctional amygdala systems.
Marsh et al. (2011) argue that psychopathic features, such as manipulativeness, reduced empathy, shallow sentiments, and lack of remorse amongst psychopathic youths result from atypical activity patterns in the Orbitofrontal and amygdala cortex during a decision-making process. Hence, psychopathic features may influence the capacity of teenagers to append the right emotional valence to performances of different moral acceptability. The reduced amygdala activity on psychopathic individuals could turn them into violent offenders who lack empathy or remorse.

Lower Amygdala Volume in Men with Childhood Aggression and Early Psychopathic Traits

Psychopathic personality and the growth of persistent and severe aggression occur due to reduced volume of the amygdala. The article “Lower Amygdala Volume in Men is Associated with Childhood Aggression, Early Psychopathic Traits, and Future Violence” by Pardini, Raine, Erickson and Loeber (2014) supported Marsh et al. (2011)’s claim that violent offenders especially psychopaths have reduced amygdala activity. Pardini et al. (2014) tested male participants to understand whether low amygdala volume made them maintain an aggression and psychopathic history from their childhood. Pardini et al. (2014) also tested whether men with low amygdala volume are prone to potential violence or aggression. Pardini et al. (2014) study agreed with Marsh et al. (2011) that psychopathic personality contributes to aggression amongst adults and children because of reduced amygdala volume.
Davidson, Putnam, and Larson (2000) stipulate that amygdala remains critical in various emotion processing aspects that possess significant implications for interpreting the growth of ruthless aggression. People with damaged amygdala fail to recognize distress indications in other people and to establish conditioning responses to fear. According to Jones, Laurens, Herba, Barker and Viding (2009) violent offenders often portray such psychotic traits, such as volatile anger outbreaks when reacting to alleged provocation or threat. Both Pardini et al. (2014) and Marsh et al. (2011) studies agreed that amygdala abnormalities play a significant role in comprehending aggressive conducts amongst psychotic men. Additionally, psychopathy comprise of impulsive features (irresponsible and thrill-seeking), affective traits (unemotional and callous), and interpersonal features (manipulative and deceitful) (Pardini et al. 2014: Marsh et al. 2011).
According to Jones, et al. (2009), adult males with reduced amygdala volume are vulnerable to future psychopathic characteristics, violence, and violence. Unfortunately, the study failed to show whether women are prone to future psychopathic traits and violence because of reduced amygdala activity. Pardini et al. (2014) conclude that amygdala dysfunction can become a critical biomarker for the growth of persistent and severe aggression.


In conclusion, violent offenders tend to have reduced amygdala activity in their brain than normal individuals. As shown in the three reviewed articles, amygdale, and Orbitofrontal cortex dysfunction prevents violent offenders and psychopathic youths from making humane decisions. Low volumes of the amygdala are also related CU (callous unemotional) features, psychopathy, and antisocial conducts amongst violent offenders. There are several recommendations for future studies on amygdala in violent offenders. First, studies should perform further studies in order to establish the relationship between violent behaviors and psychopathic features from childhood to adulthood amongst violent offenders and disruptive youths. Second, they should expound the relationship between the volume of the amygdala and potential violence. Third, additional researches are required to identify and expound the manifold social-contextual facets that influence antisocial conduct development and the influence of amygdala abnormalities in criminal behavior. Lastly, further research of amygdala dysfunction could present connections between psychiatric analyses and severe types of criminal conducts like serial and sexual murders.


Anderson, N. & Kiehl, K. (2012). The Psychopath Magnetized: Insights from Brain Imaging. Trends Cogn Sci. 16(1):52–60.
Blair, R. (2010). Neuroimaging of Psychopathy and Antisocial Behavior: A Targeted Review. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 12:76–82.
Coccaro, E., McCloskey, M., Fitzgerald, D., & Phan, K. (2007). Amygdala and Orbitofrontal Reactivity to Social Threat in Individuals with Impulsive Aggression. Biol Psychiatry, 62(1):168–178.
Davidson, R. Putnam, K., & Larson, C. (2000). Dysfunction in the Neural Circuitry of Emotion Regulation: A Possible Prelude to Violence. Science, 289: 591-594.
Decety, J., Michalska, K., Akitsuki, Y., & Lahey, B. (2009). A Typical Empathic Responses in Adolescents with Aggressive Conduct Disorder: A Functional MRI Investigation. Biological Psychology, 80, 203-211.
Delisi, M., Umphress, Z. & Vaughn, M. (2009). The Criminology of the Amygdala. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 36(11):1241-1252.
Frick, P., & White, S. (2008). Research Review: The Importance of Callous-Unemotional Traits for Developmental Models of Aggressive and Antisocial Behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49: 359-375.
Gao, Y., Raine, A., Venables, P., Dawson, M., & Mednick, S. (2010). Association of Poor Childhood Fear Conditioning and Adult Crime. Am J Psychiatry, 167(3):56–60.
Jones, A. Laurens, R., Herba, C., Barker, G. & Viding, E. (2009). Amygdala Hypoactivity to Fearful Faces in Boys with Conduct Problems and Callous-Unemotional Traits. American Journal of Psychiatry, 166: 95-102.
Hariri, A. & Weinberger, D. (2009). The Genetic Basis of Amygdala Reactivity. In P. J. Whalen & E. A. Phelps (Eds.), The Human Amygdala (pp. 406-416). New York: Guilford
Kiehl, K. (2006). A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective on Psychopathy: Evidence for Paralimbic System Dysfunction. Psychiatry Research, 142, 107-128.
Loeber, R., Farrington, D., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & White, H. (2008). Violence and Serious Theft: Development and Prediction from Childhood to Adulthood. New York, NY: Routledge.
Marsh, A., Finger, E., Fowler, K., Jurkowitz, I., Schechter, J., Yu, H., Spine, D., & Blair, R. (2011). Reduced Amygdala–Orbitofrontal Connectivity during Moral Judgments in Youths with Disruptive Behavior Disorders and Psychopathic Traits. Psychiatry Research, 194(2):279-286.
Pardini, D., Raine, A., Erickson, K., & Loeber, R. (2014). Lower Amygdala Volume in Men is Associated with Childhood Aggression, Early Psychopathic Traits, and Future Violence. Biol Psychiatry, 75(1):1-20.
Phelps, E. (2006). Emotion and Cognition: Insights from Studies of the Human Amygdala. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 27-53.
Sterzer, P. (2010). Born to be Criminal? What to Make of Early Biological Risk Factors for Criminal Behavior. Am J Psychiatry. 167(2):1–3.
Whalen, P. (2007). The Uncertainty of it All. Trends in Cognitive Science, 11: 499-500.
Wright, J., Tibbetts, S. & Daigle, L. (2008). Criminals in the Making: Criminality across the Life Course. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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