Anime and reality saw a bit of convergence this week. Several days after Psycho-Pass ended, Wired reported on a scientific study that gets scarily close to the sci-fi anime's Sibyl System, used to measure citizen's Crime Coefficient. “It’s the first time brain scans have been used to predict recidivism,” said neuroscientist Kent Kiehl of the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The study of 96 male offenders demonstrated that brain scans of convicted felons can be used to predict the most likely repeat offenders.
It worked by testing impulsivity. While scanning the subject with a mobile fMRI, state prison inmates were instructed to press a button as quickly as possible whenever they saw the letter X pop up on a screen inside the scanner, but not to press it if they saw the letter K. To trigger impulsiveness, the test was then rigged so X pops up 84 percent of the time.
That scanner would be used to watch for activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, one of several brain regions thought to be important for impulse control. The subjects with low activity made more errors and were predicted to have poorer impulse control.
Scientists still need to compare their fMRI test head to head against pencil-and-paper tests specifically designed to assess the risk of recidivism.
“It’s a great study because it brings neuroimaging into the realm of prediction,” said clinical psychologist Dustin Pardini of the University of Pittsburgh. At the same time, he's skeptical about its practical use. ”In general we’re horrible at predicting human behavior, and I don’t see this as being any different, at least not in the near future.”