Crime prediction is no longer just the realm of Minority Report-type fiction. It’s a very real, very important field of work today, and it’s already quite successful. Whether it’s done to figure out whether an individual or group is at risk of joining a radical religious group, or to evaluate one’s potential for engaging in a mass shooting, crime fighters are getting a lot better at preempting potential threats, and the results are making us at least a bit safer.
Unlike Minority Report, of course, nobody can be arrested for crimes they have not yet committed. They can, though, be counselled, and monitored for behaviour that could lead to more dangerous activity. This is a good thing, but it’s still finding its place in the crime fighting game. Expect it to be a little while before it becomes mainstream.
Believe it or not, there are ways we can keep an eye on those around us to accomplish something similar - we can all be vigilant about potentially criminal traits. Some are some easily observable traits that, while not a 100% predictor of future crime, are hints that might be cause for action. Others require doctors and teachers to properly observe, but offer a head start on discipline and even reform before behaviours become criminal.
Nobody expects family to be gunning to have their loved ones arrested, but it’s also important to know what to look for if you're concerned that you or those around you might be on the path to reckless and potentially dangerous behaviour. These five examples of qualities which have been suggested, by numerous psychological studies, to indicate a propensity to future criminality.
5 The Person Has A Speech Disorder
Communication disorders aren’t uncommon, with lisps, dyslexia, and other communication and learning disabilities making it more difficult for an individual to communicate, understand, and learn. It seems there is a correlation between that and criminal activity. Nacro, the crime reduction charity, points to a startling figure to illustrate the point:
"A 2007 study into the prevalence of speech, language and communication difficulties amongst young people in secure accommodation found that over two thirds had below average language skills, and 33% had poor literacy skills and were not able to read to a standard appropriate for their age."
This can lead to the individual having "poor conversational skills, poor non-verbal skills and poor social perception, all of which can hinder their ability to form friendships with their peers and may lead to them becoming marginalised."
Luckily, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent this kind of situation from degenerating. Speech therapists, psychologists, and other specialists can help a family create and implement a plan to improve or assist a person with difficulty communicating.
4 They Have Difficulty Learning Fear
Human survival is based largely on pattern recognition, which means learning through experience is one of those things that is really, really important. We learn that something tends to happen after a given signal, and we then react to that signal, which gives us extra seconds, or even minutes, that could prove crucial to our survival.
Our emotional spectrum is engaged in this process. Signals we associate with good things tend to trigger good reactions, and bad ones trigger fearful ones. If it takes a lot longer for a person to learn these reactions, it becomes a concern.
Many violent prisoners are psychopaths – between 20 and 30 percent, according to an article by the University of Chicago – and psychopaths have a hampered ability to engage emotionally. That, it turns out, extends to the pattern recognition ability of the person, too. Studies have now found that psychopaths have difficulty learning to be afraid of unpleasant stimuli. Violent criminals, then, are often reckless thrill-seekers.
3 They (Mostly) Look Like Criminals
This one may sound useless, but it has real data to back it up.
Psychology Today reported on this finding, originally published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology. In an experiment that saw criminal photos mixed in with those of non-criminals, it found that regular people could reliably pick out photos of criminals based solely on appearance.
The article found a couple of other things the researchers found surprising. First, that “results also show that individuals cannot tell what type of criminals [the photographed people] are.”
The second, much more disturbing, was that women ranked sexual offenders as being less likely to be criminal than other criminals. The guess seems to be that “In order to be a successful r*pist, the man has to be able to fool the woman and earn her trust initially. Men who "fit the bill" by looking like a sex offender would not be able to do that.”Truly horrifying.
2 They Are Uncaring And Violent As Children
It’s one of those things that seem obvious, and recent research backs it up. Observed violent and antisocial behaviour in youth can predict that the child will engage in criminal activity by the time they reach adulthood.
The usual caveats apply. Not all children who act out when they are young are going to rob a bank. In an interview with Medscape, Sheilagh Hodgins, PhD said “Most nonviolent and violent crimes are committed by a small group of males and females who display conduct problems that onset in childhood...”
According to the study, which followed a group of children from their youth through to adulthood, boys who had the “highest degree of conduct behaviour problems” “were 4 times more likely to be convicted of violent crimes and 5 times more likely to be convicted of nonviolent crimes than boys with lower ratings.” For girls, the Medscape report only lists the nonviolent crime number, which it puts at 5 times higher among girls with conduct behaviour problems.
The article suggests that intervention might be able to help prevent these at-risk children from going down the road of criminality, but that it’s also a risky thing to have teachers and other authority figures labelling a child from such a young age.
Expect more studies of this kind to further develop the juvenile crime potential prediction game.
1 Their Amygdala And Prefrontal Cortex Are Smaller
Our personhood is linked closely to the makeup of our bodies. Everything about us, ultimately, is a manifestation of how our organs operate, and so the shape of our brain has a lot to do with who we are. That’s why it’s so important that scientists discovered potentially criminal people have undersized amygdalas and prefrontal cortices – regions of the brain that are involved in emotional response and behaviour – and that this can be identified in children as young as three.
As with the previous item, this allows for early intervention, meaning it could be possible to prevent a child from straying. Researchers also suggest that, rather than just teaching a child how not to act out, medical remedies might be used to correct the brain function itself.
Dr. Fontaine, a researcher in this field, said “Therapy could include counselling to counteract innate behavioural problems and boosting the brain with drugs or foods rich in Omega 3.”
Again, there may be some questions to answer about pre-emptive treatment, as it ultimately addresses a problem that does not yet exist, but it seems this will remain an area of interest for behavioural psychologists and neuroscientists.