Evil is all in the brain. Or is it?

After 3000 years of speculation, a German neurologist has finally located the source of evil. Well, at least Das Bild says he has. Gerhard Roth showed the tabloid images of the offending portion of the brain. It is an 'evil patch' in the brain's central lobe which shows up as a dark mass on X-rays, he says. 

For years Dr Roth has been examining German criminals. 'When you look at the brain scans of hardened criminals, there are almost always severe shortcomings in the lower forehead part of the brain. There are cases where someone becomes criminal as a result of a tumour or an injury in that area, and after an operation to remove the tumour, that person was completely normal again. Or there are physiological deficits, because certain substances such as serotonin in the forebrain are not working effectively. 'But this is definitely the region of the brain where evil is formed and where it lurks."

Dr Roth believes that he can predict whether children will turn into criminals."When I look at young people, and I see there are developmental disorders in the lower forehead brain, I can say that there is a felon in the making with 66 per cent probability. It is easy to spot this anti-social behaviour from very early on.'

The interview, which was relayed to the English-speaking world through the bible of bioethics-is-all-in-the-brain, the Daily Mail, in London, was ridiculed by German journalist and blogger Daniel Rettig. "We are back to the original problem of science journalism. Sometimes the line between simplification and idiocy is exceeded. And this is unfortunately the case in this article."

Dr Roth is a well-known figure in Germany and a leading voice in lobbying for a reform of the criminal law. He argues that a substantial portion -- perhaps one-third -- of our behaviour is genetically determined. He also campaigns for early education to help children who are in danger of becoming psychopaths. 

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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