The Limbic System and Crime

Authored by: Matt DeLisi

The Ashgate Research Companion to Biosocial Theories of Crime

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409408437
eBook ISBN: 9781315612768
Adobe ISBN: 9781317044055


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At its core, criminal behavior could be viewed as the triumph of emotion over reason. Murder is frequently borne from mundane circumstances involving interpersonal conflicts with person whom we have close emotional connections, and the primary motivators for these conflicts are anger, vengeance, lust, and other deadly sins. Other types of crimes, such as shoplifting, drug use, or drunk driving involve fleeting decisions to take what we want, and to do what we want. Freud referred to these primal drives that are able to overcome thought and reason as a component of the personality called the id. More generally, these primal, visceral emotions originate from the region of the brain known as the limbic system. The limbic system is involved in autonomic or involuntary and somatic or voluntary behavioral activities relating to emotion and emotional memory. This chapter briefly reviews the history, function, anatomy, and cortical connectivity of the limbic system with particular focus on and discussion of the amygdala which is the limbic area that is most important to the study of crime (DeLisi, Umphress, & Vaughn, 2009). In addition, linkages between the limbic system, psychopathy, homicide offending, and theoretical models of antisocial behavior are explored.

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