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."
"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.