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Crime and punishment: The neurobiological roots of modern justice
Date:4/18/2012

decision-making is purely based on rational thinking, research suggests that much of the motivation for punishing is driven by negative emotional responses to the harm. This signal appears to be generated in the amygdala, causing people to factor in their emotional state when making decisions instead of making solely factual judgments.

Next, the decision-maker must integrate his or her evaluation of the norm-violator's mental state and the amount of harm with the specific set of punishment options. The researchers propose that the medial prefrontal cortex, which is centrally located and has connections to all the other key areas, acts as a hub that brings all this information together and passes it to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), where the final decision is made with the input from another rear-brain area called the intraparietal sulcus, involved in selecting the appropriate punishment response. As such, the DLPFC may be at the apex of the neural hierarchy involved in deciding on the appropriate punishments that should be given to specific norm violations.

The current model focuses on the role of punishment in encouraging large-scale human cooperation, but the researchers recognize that reward and positive reinforcement are also powerful psychological forces that encourage both short-term and long-term cooperation.

Marois adds: "It is somewhat ironic that while punishment, or the threat of punishment, is thought to play a foundational role in the evolution of our large-scale societies, much research in developmental psychology demonstrates the immense power of positive reinforcement in shaping a young individual's behavior." Understanding how both reward and punishment work should therefore provide fundamental insights into the nature of human cooperative behavior. "The ultimate 'pot of gold at the end of the rainbow' here is to promote a criminal justice system that is not only fairer, but also less necessary," said Marois.'/>"/>

Contact: David Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert

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