Dr. Adrian Raine, university professor and the Richard Perry Professor of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has traveled a very interesting road in academia to be where he is today. He started his career as a primary school teacher before deciding to pursue a PhD.
"I was uncertain of what to study when someone suggested that I get a PhD,” Dr. Raine says. "After searching through old college essays, I found that I received the best marks on a paper dealing with the psychophysiology of psychopathy, and I decided to make this my main area of study.” In 1982, he earned his PhD in psychology from York University, England. Before receiving his PhD, however, Dr. Raine spent four years working in two high-security prisons in England as a prison psychologist.
"I was fortunate to have started working for the prison in 1980 during the same time the original Psychopathy Checklist, created by Robert Hare (2003, revised), came out,” he says of his experience working in the prison. "I was eager to use this psychopathy assessment tool on the inmates.”
While working in the prison, Dr. Raine says his "most frightening experience was nearly being attacked by an inmate with an iron bar. The inmate, serving a five-year sentence, was wanting to gain a life sentence by attacking the psychologist he knew he was about to meet.” Fortunately for Dr. Raine, the inmate could not hold his aggression and attacked another prisoner just before their scheduled meeting. "The inmate who was attacked suffered brain damage from the incident. In that moment, I realized how close I had been to brain damage.” This disconcerting experience, however, did not deter Dr. Raine from pursuing his studies.
Brain Basics for Crime
Dr. Raine’s studies on the biological basis of crime have revealed that antisocial and aggressive behaviors are created early in development and they have both hormonal and neuropsychological causes. Additionally, Raine says that "enriched environments (better nutrition, exercise, and constant stimulation) in the early years of life promoted a reduction in criminal behavior by 35% in studies conducted over 30 years. Conversely, poor nutrition and neglect were shown to be other indicators of antisocial behavior.” Currently, Dr. Raine is studying how Omega 3 fatty acids work as treatment in antisocial and aggressive behavior. "Although research is new,” he says, "positive results have been shown in reducing antisocial and aggressive behavior.”
Another area of interest for Dr. Raine is white-collar crime, which includes offenses that are financially motivated and usually nonviolent, typically "committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation” (Sutherland, 1939). Some of these crimes include fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering.
"Criminals who commit these offenses have abnormalities, or ‘brain superiorities,’ that give them advantages when perpetrating crimes,” says Raine. "Some of these advantages include increased executive functioning, superior information processing, and enhanced decision- making skills.” Dr. Raine’s research on criminality has led him to investigate the moral decision- making of criminals; he says that people who commit crimes may have what he calls "emotional impairments.”
"While some criminals may understand the difference between right and wrong (by society’s laws and standards), they do not have the same feelings or emotional ties to what is right and wrong,” says Dr. Raine. "Essentially, the behaviors and morals of criminals are not influenced by their feelings; their moral circuitry may be dysfunctional.” Because of this, Dr. Raine questions the ethical dilemma of punishing someone with a brain dysfunction that causes antisocial and aggressive behaviors and criminality. "This problem has implications for the judicial system, and questions whether people who were born with this impairment should continue be punished in the manner they currently are,” he says.
Current Projects and Recommendations for Students
As a result of a diverse career in psychology, Dr. Raine has won many awards for his contributions to the field; however, his most prized award has been the USC Associate’s Award for Creativity in Research. "This award meant the most to me because I feel I have always gone out on a limb in my career,” he says. "I began studying in a field that no one was interested in at the time.” When applying for jobs, Dr. Raine was rejected 67 times before finally receiving an academic career. Now, his favorite course to teach is biosocial criminology, because "it blends the psychological, genetic, brain, and environmental factors that contribute to criminal behavior,” he says.
Dr. Raine’s persistence and creativity are inspiring for students looking to further their career in psychology. He advises that students who are interested in criminology and looking to enter graduate school get involved in research in antisocial behavior, learn good research skills, and take advantage of biological research. "Most importantly, spend time developing good research and statistical skills,” he suggests. "I also encourage students interested in criminology to apply to study with me at the University of Pennsylvania. This is an exciting time to study the brain basis for crime. The new field of neurocriminology is upon us!”