Leading article: Can the cycle of violence be closed?

Share
Related Topics

The news that some of Britain's leading neuroscientists are to collaborate on a study of children's brains is bound to be treated warily in some quarters. Nor will the purpose of the research – to investigate whether early abuse and deprivation might cause changes in the brain that foster disturbed and violent behaviour in later life – reduce the worries. Examining the brain for physical characteristics that might help to explain aberrant behaviour of whatever kind conjures up a picture of fusty laboratories, rows of jars containing brains preserved in formaldehyde, and long-discredited theories about nature always trumping nurture.

Several aspects, however, make this study quite different and thoroughly to be welcomed. The first relates to its genesis. It has been commissioned by Camila Batmanghelidjh's charity, Kids Company, which is known for its innovative work with some of the most deprived children in the country. Its approach, tailored to individuals and painstakingly practical, is about as far from ideological dogma as it is possible to be. In the course of their work, Ms Batmanghelidjh and her team have noted patterns of behaviour that some children prone to violence had in common. If the research identifies some change in the brains of such children that is associated with violence or neglect in their past, then treatment would be a more rational and humane response than criminalisation; prevention might also become possible.

The second reason to applaud the project is the calibre of those who are taking part and the institutions concerned. There will be no risk of unscientific dogma intruding here. This will be a pioneering study with the potential to revolutionise the treatment of young offenders. And the third reason why this study should not be clouded by prejudices from the past is that neuroscience has progressed very far from the examination of pickled brains. While posthumous brain research still clearly has a place, today's scanning technology makes it possible to study the brain characteristics and responses of living people.

Some scientists object that the technology is still too crude for any useful conclusions to be reached. They also fear that too great an emphasis on neurology could encourage a diminution of personal responsibility for criminal acts. These are obviously dangers to be avoided. But if there is any way in which damaged children can somehow be mended, and today's neuroscience can help us find it, it would be a dereliction of duty to pass up the opportunity.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Crabtreeof the San Francisco 49ers misses a catch during 2013's Super Bowl XLVII  

Super Bowl 2015: It's the most ridiculous sporting event of the year, but I absolutely love it

John Rentoul
The author with David Leppan, the co-founder of Wealth-X, in his BBC series  

What I learnt about inequality after spending time with some of the richest people in the world

Jacques Peretti
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links