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'Fearless' 3-Year-Olds Might Be Tomorrow's Criminals
Date:11/17/2009

ad committed serious crimes involving property, drugs, violence and driving. These individuals had shown an absence of fear during testing at age 3, whereas 274 study participants who had grown to adulthood without a criminal record had displayed typical fear responses.

Experts agreed that the findings don't constitute a cause-and-effect situation, but hailed the study for its longevity and what the work adds to what is known about how childhood factors influence adult behavior.

"Any time you have a 20-year study, that's significant," said Dr. Elissa P. Benedek, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based psychiatrist who has worked in private practice with children and adults for more than 40 years and is a past president of the American Psychiatric Association.

"It's good for putting another link in the chain in terms of what is early brain dysfunction, and what increases the risk for such behaviors as attention-deficit disorder and criminal activity. It's another link back to whatever we all ready know about early brain dysfunction that may cause problems later in life," Benedek added.

So what do the results mean for individuals with fear conditioning deficits and their loved ones, and for society at large? It's a wake-up call about potential problems, said Gao and other experts in the field. To enhance the proper working of the amygdala, which is believed to reduce criminal behavior in later life, enrichment programs are essential.

In fact, according to Gao, some at-risk children between the ages of 3 and 5 who have benefited from those programs, which include sound nutrition, adequate physical exercise and cognitive brain stimulation, had shown an improvement in brain functioning by age 11 that reduced the chances of criminal behavior by 35 percent 20 years later.

Addressing parental concerns, Benedek added: "Don't be discouraged if your child has early brain dysfunction. It doesn't mean that he or she is going to grow
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