Controversial study into whether mainland murderers are different to others A controversial study of the brains of men detained for murder in Nanjing could reveal whether Chinese criminal minds are different to those of their Caucasian counterparts, according to visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong Adrian Raine. Professor Raine, a criminal psychologist, has begun the first known study of the minds of Chinese criminals - mirroring research he has done in the United States - which he expects will show that biological and genetic factors contribute 50 per cent to the psychological makeup of a criminal. 'The Nanjing study of detainees standing trial for homicides will show whether the criminal mind is universal or cultural,' he said. 'No research has been done on different races before and the results could go on to show there are differences in criminal behaviour.' Given a link between frontal lobe impairment and criminal behaviour, the research could raise more controversial issues. If the results show Chinese criminal minds do not have the same impairments, the conclusion may be that brains of different races or cultures function differently. 'The lower Asian crime rate may be due to Asian criminals being better planners and they could have more frontal lobe functioning than Caucasian criminals,' Professor Raine said. 'But nobody wants to do research on this as we're frightened of the possible results.' For decades, crime has been blamed on poverty, unemployment and poor home environments, but he said efforts to change those factors had not reduced crime because the biological and genetic part of the equation had been systematically ignored. Twin studies have shown that about 50 per cent of crime is due to genetic factors, while the other half is due to environmental causes such as bad parenting, child abuse, poverty, poor supervision, birth complications and nutrition. 'I'm convinced poverty does not lead to crime,' he said. 'Poorer groups have higher crime rates as they have other hits on them like poor nutrition, lower IQ and other risk factors like a disorganised home environment.' Professor Raine's US research has concluded that biological and genetic factors can raise the chances of children becoming criminals, especially when combined with environmental factors. Factors that predispose a child to antisocial and violent criminal behaviour include birth complications, maternal rejection, genetics, low physiological arousal, poor nutrition, damage to the frontal cortex and nicotine and alcohol use by the mother during pregnancy. 'There is a lot of suspicion and concern about biological research as people are fearful that biology can equal destiny,' he said. 'If we see biological markers for crime in people, there may be a case for locking them up before they've even committed a crime and this raises a civil rights issue.' The findings also raise the ethical issue of whether criminals should be held responsible if neurological impairments predispose them to antisocial behaviour. Although Professor Raine is concerned by the issues brought up by his research, he is convinced that ignoring biology and genetics would be a greater tragedy as society would then never be rid of crime and violence. 'By getting inside the criminal mind, we can forge new keys which combine biology with social ingredients to unlock the secrets of what makes a violent criminal offender,' he said. 'Once we know the causes, we can do something systematic about changing it.' He believes the solution would be to identify the early risk factors and correct them before the manifestation of antisocial behaviour. A person's biological makeup did not necessarily mean a destined life of crime. Professor Raine believes society can protect those with a predisposition towards crime with a stable, supporting environment. 'It's not just biology or environment but a complex combination of the two,' he said. 'A criminal offender is like a jigsaw puzzle of different pieces. Each piece is a different factor and if we can tackle a number of these pieces, we can knock out some of the violence.' He suggested the best way to reduce crime was to invest in early enrichment in child nutrition, parenting skill classes in secondary school and better antenatal and postnatal health care for poor mothers.