People living in the richest and poorest areas of London were more likely to censor a neuroscientific explanation of criminal behaviour from being communicated to offenders.

That is the finding of research being presented this week by Robert Blakey from the University of Oxford at the British Psychological Society’s 2018 annual conference.

Robert Blakey said:

“Neuroscience has identified some brain structures and functions that can explain antisocial personality traits and criminal behaviours.

“This is a finding that can clash with people’s belief that criminals are morally responsible for their behaviour, since the neuroscience could be seen to excuse their criminal actions. So we sought to investigate whether there was a public appetite for this neuroscience to be communicated to offenders themselves.”

Using the lost-letter technique, the researchers sought to investigate whether people would choose to censor neuroscientific explanations for offending.

They left 832 clearly undelivered postcards in the street, each containing one of four different messages. The postcards contained either a brain-based explanation for criminal behaviour or a person-based explanation for criminal behaviour and were addressed to a teacher who was educating either students or prisoners in the causes of crime.

A total of 16 London boroughs were chosen in which to drop the postcards, with the four richest (Islington, Lambeth, Merton, Kensington and Chelsea) and four poorest (Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Brent, Ealing) selected alongside eight other boroughs of less extreme socioeconomic status.

The researchers found that the public were less likely to choose to deliver the postcards intended for prisoners in the richest and poorest areas, when the postcards contained the brain-based explanation of crime.