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RETRAINING THE CRIMINAL BRAIN?

In a technique known as neurofeedback, researchers literally "retrain" the brain by teaching subjects how to alter their own brain wave patterns. Researchers are using neurofeedback to treat autism, hyperactivity, and epilepsy. But can the same technique reduce recidivism in criminals?

In preliminary research, Canadian researcher Douglas Quirk tested the effects of a biofeedback treatment program on 77 dangerous offenders. Subjects were selected, Quirk says, on the basis of neuropsychological tests suggesting that they suffered from deep-brain epileptic activity. Quirk's training was designed to inhibit this type of activity, and to increase galvanic skin resistance (an approach which he believes may help subjects cope better with anxiety).

The inmates participated in half-hour treatment sessions once or twice per week, until they were transferred or released. Follow-ups were conducted an average of 18 months after release. Subjects' recidivism rates, Quirk reports, "varied in inverse proportion to the amount of treatment they received. Those who received essentially no biofeedback treatment were convicted of subsequent offenses in 65% of the cases, and those who received essentially complete treatment were subsequently convicted of offenses in 20% of the cases."

Quirk notes that the study suffered from several weaknesses, including the inability to conduct diagnostic EEGs and other brain tests on subjects and the inability to control for the effects of other treatment programs offered by the facility. However, he says, "the results of the present study seem to warrant at least the preliminary conclusion that a sub-group of dangerous offenders can be identified, understood and successfully treated using this kind of composite biofeedback conditioning program."

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"Composite biofeedback conditioning and dangerous offenders: III," Douglas A. Quirk, Journal of Neurotherapy, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1995, pp. 44-54. Address: Douglas A. Quirk, Ontario Correctional Institute, P.O. Box 1888, Brampton, ON L6V 2P1, Canada.