Neuropsychological Risk Factors

NIMH called the 1990’s “the decade of the brain”. The NIMH strategic plan reads, in part, “This is a time of great scientific excitement in mental health research. Building on new discoveries from genetics, neuroscience, and behavioral science, we are better poised to understand how the brain, behavior, and the environment interact to lead to mental disorders. Mental illnesses are now studied as brain disorders, specifically as disorders of brain circuits.” [italics added]. Along with rapid development in understanding of the neuropsychology of mental disorders has come greater understanding of the neuropsychology of violence.   I have written three papers* in the last two years on the links between neuropsychological factors and domestic violence and in so doing have discovered new avenues for possible interventions and rediscovered some of the same resistance to change endemic in this field.  The current policy/practice paradigm, as maintained at the federal level by the National Institute of Justice, and at the state and local levels by various domestic violence “certifying agencies” and “batterer” intervention providers, excludes from consideration a host of known perpetration risk factors.  Recent research on neurochemical, neuroanatomical and neuropsychological risk for violence suffers the same fate as older research on addiction and mental health issues – deliberately misinterpreted or ignored. Admittedly, neuropsychological risk factors present to judges, and the general criminal justice system in general, complications regarding culpability, accountability, and the proper role of corrections. These complications are magnified in the area of domestic violence perpetration where even the basics of forensic mental have been deliberately excluded from policy and practice for decades.  Whether research into the links between neuropsychological anomalies and domestic violence can be manipulated or misused to mitigate the personal responsibility of perpetrators should not influence whether or not such research is undertaken or respected.  Domestic violence research must better incorporate the new and rapidly expanding research on neuroscience and neurochemistry into its theoretical framing of perpetration or continue to languish in scientific backwaters.