A neurodevelopmental perspective on male violence [2018]

Research is increasingly documenting a neurobiological basis to violence. This review takes a neurodevelopmental perspective on the very small group of males who grow up to become persistent violent offenders. After outlining six criteria for what constitutes a neurodevelopmental disorder, the extent to which chronic violence meets these definitional criteria is examined, covering the fields of genetics, structural and functional brain imaging, and neuropsychology. Early health risk factors for violence are then outlined, including birth complications, minor physical anomalies, prenatal smoking and alcohol exposure, poor nutrition, lead exposure, and traumatic brain injury. Persistent adult violence is argued to originate in aberrant temperamental behavior in early childhood, to have a stable developmental trajectory, and to be associated with impaired education, social, and occupational functioning. Taken together, it is argued that chronic adult violence meets criterion for being conceptualized as having neurodevelopmental origins and that an important, but not sole, source of neural maldevelopment lies in prenatal and early postnatal risk factors. This review concludes with a recognition of the sociopolitical context within which a neurodevelopmental perspective on chronic violence sits, together with directions for future research, including whether a neurodevelopmental hypothesis is best applied to reactive as opposed to proactive aggression.

Adrian Raine
Infant Mental Health Journal, Volume 40, Issue 1, January/February 2019