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What's Different About a Killer's Brain

Now that the D.C. area sniper has finally been caught, people are dismayed at how "ordinary" he seems. Yet we can't imagine ourselves doing something like that, so is there anything basically different about the brains of serial killers?

Some answers come from a scientific study of Joel Rifkin, who strangled 17 prostitutes in four years. After New York police caught him in 1994, he said he had no idea why he did it, and if he was ever set free, he?s not sure he wouldn?t do it again. "It was just something that happened and, you know, I had no plans to repeat it," he said. "Am I just evil? Am I brain-damaged? I mean, these are questions I want answered."

Adrian Raine and Monte Buchsbaum have done brain scans of 25 convicted murderers and found that many of the killers have abnormalities in the frontal lobes of their brains. "In the normal person the frontal lobe is one of the most highly active areas of the brain," says Buchsbaum, pointing at an image on his computer. "In this individual, who carried out a murder, we can see that the frontal lobe is quite inactive."

The frontal lobes are involved in planning, organizing, and impulse control. "The frontal lobes are the part of the brain that puts a brake on impulses and drives," says Dr. Jonathan Pincus. "It's the part of the brain that allows us to say, 'Don't do that! Don't say that! It's not appropriate! There are going to be consequences!'" Pincus has examined brain scans of more than 100 killers, and says Rifkin?s is typical, "His frontal lobes were very, very seriously damaged."

But brain deficiency alone is not enough to make a person violent. Science recognizes 3 childhood traits of every person who grows up to be a child abuser or serial killer, called the Unholy Trinity: They torture animals, set fires and wet the bed (indicating poor self control). Also, they have all been abused themselves. If a person who was badly abused has frontal lobe deficiency, which can be caused by violent abuse during childhood, Pincus says, "then you have a very dangerous combination of impulses and drives that cannot be easily controlled by the damaged frontal lobes."

Note: In our Oct. 22 news story, ?How to Be an Eyewitness,? we quoted Gregg McCrary, a former FBI profiler, who said that in a serial murder case he was working on, eyewitnesses reported seeing two men in a beige Camaro. When the case was resolved, investigators found the suspects were actually a man and a woman traveling in a gold Nissan. This happened in the sniper case: the widely-reported white van had nothing to do with the snipers, who were traveling (and shooting from) a beat-up dark-colored jalopy.

Can a switching calendars change the way we live? Jose Arguilles, who has spent years living by the ancient Mayan calendar, says it can and explains why in ?Time & Technosphere,?click here.

NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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