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What is Neurocriminology & Neuroforensics?

Neurocriminology is an interdisciplinary field that bridges neuroscience and criminology. Historically criminology has drawn primarily upon methods and concepts from the social sciences. Emerging in roughly the 19th century, neurocriminology seeks to explore how the neural mechanisms underpinning criminal behavior might contribute to better understanding of criminality and improved policy responses. Through tools like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG), researchers can investigate why certain individuals might be predisposed to criminal activity and how environmental, genetic, and neurobiological factors converge to influence criminal behavior. Neurocriminology includes both academic researchers and policymakers who utilize neurocriminology insights in their work.

Neuroforensics, also known as forensic neuroscience and forensic neuropsychology, is a related interdisciplinary field that integrates neuroscience with forensic concepts and methods to improve forensic investigation and legal decision-making by the application of neuroscientific techniques and information. Neuroforensics explores the complicated relationship between brain activity and legally relevant conduct, primarily to provide insight into the ways that neurological conditions affect criminal behavior, decision-making, and the determination of guilt. Additionally, neuroforensics explores how memory functions and is affected by outside factors, which is particularly important in situations where eyewitness testimony is required.

We are very excited to present this interview with Dr. Colleen Berryessa, an expert in neurocriminology. Learn about her journey to studying neurocriminology, what she does day-to-day and advice for anyone interested in getting involved in the field.

Neurocriminologist Dr. Adrian Raine discusses the use of brain science to predict violent behavior. 

Learn about criminologist Brian Boutwell and his work to further the field of biosocial criminology.

What is the biosocial theory of criminology? Learn more about it here!

How is neuroforensics impacting courtroom proceedings and what are its projections for the future?

Hear from Dr. Scott Fraser, an expert witness, whose experience in forensic neuroscience has been the difference between life and death.

What are the pathways to pursuing a career in neurocriminology & neuroforensics?

One can explore the intersection of neuroscience, criminology, and forensics in different ways. Some potential career paths include:

Forensic Neuroscientist & Neuropsychologist

Forensic neuroscientists work at the intersection of neuroscience and the legal system. (Forensic means “relating to or denoting the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of crime.”) Forensic neuroscientists may provide testimony in court cases, evaluate criminal defendants for neurologic disorders, or advise on matters where understanding the brain is pivotal. Their expertise is important in situations when more in-depth physiological perspectives that can elucidate underlying causes or motivations behind criminal activities are needed. Forensic neuropsychologists may testify on a number of legal issues, including the extent of brain injuries in civil litigation and mental stats in criminal cases.  

Criminal Rehabilitation Specialist

Using insights from neurocriminology, criminal rehabilitation specialists develop rehabilitation programs tailored to the neurological and psychological needs of justice involved individuals, aiming to reduce recidivism. Their specialized understanding of the brain’s role in behavior may allow them to craft more effective, individualized rehabilitation strategies that address the root causes of criminal tendencies, ensuring a higher chance of successful societal reintegration.

Policy Advisor

Policy advisors with a background in neurocriminology guide initiatives aimed at addressing criminal behavior more effectively. They can help to ensure that laws, regulations, and public initiatives are informed by neuroscientific understanding of criminal behavior and rehabilitative and preventive strategies.

Academic Researcher & Educator

Academic researchers in neurocriminology conduct a variety of research studies, and educators in neurocriminology can teach in a variety of settings, from colleges and universities to teaching professionals in the criminal justice system. Research may be conducted using a variety of techniques, and in collaboration with a broad array of colleagues, for instance collaborating with neuroimaging researchers,  community leaders and health professionals.

Educational Pathways

Neurocriminology and Neuroforensics are developing fields with relatively few specialized programs currently available. There are currently no undergraduate or Ph.D. degrees specifically titled “neurocriminology” or “neuroforensics”. Forensic Science is majorly offered at colleges nationwide and provides a useful background for neuroforensics. But few schools offer courses in biosocial criminology, and students interested in these interdisciplinary areas should consider programs in criminology, forensic psychology, or neuroscience that offer coursework or research opportunities related to the brain basis of criminal behavior. Watch this and see the tracks below to learn more about possible educational pathways.

  • Undergraduate: At the undergraduate level, students can focus on neuroscience, psychology, forensic science, criminology, and/or pre-law tracks to prepare for a career in neurocriminology or neuroforensics.
  • Graduate: At the graduate level, students could pursue Masters or Doctoral training in fields like forensic/criminal psychology, legal studies, or neuroscience.

Resources and programs:

The Raine Lab
Adrian Raine is the Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a pioneer in neurocriminology whose research applies neuroscience to probe the cause and cures of crime.

Science Direct: Neurocriminology Chapter
ScienceDirect provides insight into the current and past literature on the field of neurocriminology, as well as recent research on the neural correlates of antisocial behavior

The Berryessa Lab
Colleen Berryessa is an Assistant Professor of Criminal at Rutgers University. Her lab focuses on how psychological processes, perceptions, attitudes, and social contexts affect the criminal justice system

The FSU Biosocial Criminology Research & Policy Institute
The Biosocial Criminology Research & Policy Institute is committed to producing cutting-edge research examining the intersection between genetic and environmental factors in the prediction of serious and violent antisocial behaviors..

The Biosocial Criminology Association (BCA)
The Biosocial Criminology Association (BCA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to understanding the biological and environmental influences on the development of antisocial behavior.