Description: When individuals do horrible things we, of course, want to know why they did what they did. We want to know if there was something specifically wrong with them and, in particular, we want to know if there was either something that could or should have been done to prevent the person doing what they did or something that would have indicated their horrible potential and serve as some wort of warning. Forensic Psychology is a growing area of work and study that involves trying to figure some of this out. Forensic Neuropsychology is a newer and even faster growing area that looks to the brain for clues to help understand why people do criminal, dangerous, or horrible things. On Friday (February 9, 2018) a forensic neurology report was released that reported on a neuropathological (a brain autopsy) that had been conducted by Dr. Hannes Vogel, the director of neuropathology at Stanford University on the brain of Stephen Paddock, the gunman who killed 68 people in Las Vegas last October before killing himself. Think for a minute about what sorts of things such a forensic brain autopsy might be looking for that could potentially be correlated with the inexplicable behavior of opening fire from a hotel window into a crowd at a concert and then read the article linked below to see what the brain autopsy found.
Source: Brain Exam Keeps Las Vegas Gunman’s Motive a Secret, Sheri Fink, The New York Times, February 11, 2018.
Date: February 11, 2018
Photo Credit: Wikkipedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Corpora_amylacea_in_the_brain,_HE_1.JPG
Links: Article Link – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/19/us/las-vegas-attack-shooting-paddock.html
Well, the title of the article gave the result, or rather the lack of a definitive result, away. At this point in our developing understanding of the brain we are looking in such autopsies for things like tumors or stroke damage that could have changed how the brain works perhaps by lowering inhibition or bumping up paranoia or both or something else. The brain autopsy could not tell us about the possibility of manic depressive and or anxiety disorder that were suggested by a physician who treated the gunman up to about a year before he opened fire and, even so, those issues may be only vaguely correlated with the Paddocks decision to short at the concert crowd. None of that would have been useful in predicting or perhaps stopping the incident and focusing on those symptoms runs a larger risk of stigmatizing the huge number of people who deal with manic depressive or anxiety disorders without picking up a gun. The one possibly anomalous finding was a preponderance of corpora amylacea which are small spheres comprised of carbohydrates, proteins and other substances attached to a number of brain structures. The presence of corpora amylacea are related to age but also to Alzheimer’s. Their presence in high numbers as seen in Paddock’s brain could be an indication that “something is not right” according to scientists involved in research into corpora amylacea. What their presence in Paddock’s brain might mean is not at all clear, and, as always, more research is needed.
Questions for Discussion:
- What sorts of anomalies might a forensic post mortem study of a brain from a person like Stephen Paddock be looking for?
- What did the neuropathologist in this case conclude?
- What research might we do (or imagine doing) in order to better understand the role of corpora amylacea in human behavior in general and possibly in forensic neuropsychology in particular?
References (Read Further):
Schmidt Case, Mary (2016) Forensic Neuropathology, Medscape, https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1680207-overview
Forensic Psychology and Neuropsychology: What are the differences? https://www.forensicpsychologyonline.com/forensic-psychology-vs-neuropsychology/#context/api/listings/prefilter
Hom, J. (2003). Forensic Neuropsychology: are we there yet? Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 18(8), 827-845. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887617703000763
Cisse, S., Perry, G., Lacoste-Royal, G., Cabana, T., & Gauvreau, D. (1993). Immunochemical identification of ubiquitin and heat-shock proteins in corpora amylacea from normal aged and Alzheimer’s disease brains. Acta neuropathologica, 85(3), 233-240. http://www.academia.edu/download/42295615/Immunochemical_identification_of_ubiquit20160207-15250-87wx7e.pdf