SHOCKING DEVELOPMENTS. A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have conducted a study they claim shows minimally invasive shocks to a person’s brain makes them less likely to commit a violent crime. Such shocks may also increase perceptions of violence and aggression as morally wrong.
81 adults were divided into two groups. One group received brain shocks to the prefrontal cortex, the frontmost part of the brain critical for planning and decision making, for 20 minutes. The other group did not receive shocks. All participants, shocked or not, were then presented with two scenarios about physical and sexual assault and asked how likely they were to commit such acts on a scale of 1 to 10.
The survey showed the people who were shocked were less inclined to carry out physical and sexual assault by 47 and 70 percent, respectively.
NOT QUITE “A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.” It would be easy (and irresponsible) to take this to mean that we should shock all violent offenders’ brains. After all, the study didn’t attempt to decipher if there are an optimal number of shocks, the duration of treatment, or sufficient voltage. So let’s not dial it up to 11 just yet.
Even Olivia Choy, assistant professor of psychology at NTU in Singapore and the lead author on the paper, urges that there’s more work to do before we know for sure that this type of treatment will reduce violence, according to a report from Stat News.
As Roy Hamilton, a neurologist at the Perelman School of Medicine and the senior paper author, told PennToday, “The ability to manipulate such complex and fundamental aspects of cognition and behavior from outside the body has tremendous social, ethical, and possibly someday legal implications.”
A JOLT OF HOPE. Though more research is needed, the possibility of behavior modification through electrical stimulation isn’t too far off. After all, electric shocks administered through the same technique, called transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), have been used to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s and opioid addiction, or simply to boost memory. Perhaps one day the more violent aspects of society will be tempered by a friendly little shock. Or as Hamilton suggests, a little tongue-in-cheek, “Perhaps, the secret to holding less violence in your heart is to have a properly stimulated mind.”