AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 2, 2020


Brain Stimulation Decreases Intent to Commit Physical, Sexual Assault

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Research from the University of Pennsylvania shows that using minimally invasive electrical currents on the prefrontal cortex can reduce the desire to carry out such violence and increase the perception that it’s morally wrong


Stimulating the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for controlling complex ideas and behaviors, can reduce a person’s intention to commit a violent act by more than 50 percent, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania and Nanyang Technological University. What’s more, using such a minimally invasive technique, called transcranial direct-current stimulation, increased perception that acts of physical and sexual assault were morally wrong.

“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,” says Roy Hamilton, an associate professor of Neurology in at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and senior paper author.

“It’s viewing violent crime from a public-health perspective,” adds psychologist Adrian Raine, a Penn Integrates Knowledge professor and co-author on the paper. “Historically we haven’t taken this kind of approach to interventions around violence,” he says. “But this has promise. We only did one 20-minute session and we saw an effect. What if we had more sessions? What if we did it three times a week for a month?”

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