Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Zooming in on the structural deformities a rapist's brain might have and exploring the source of the choice to rape
Theme: Ethics and Controversy / Health Issues and Disease
Disclaimer: The following publication from Under the Microscope contains material that may be disturbing to some readers. This article only aims to educate and inform readers about what may lead a perpetrator to rape and is provided in good faith. If you think the contents of this article might pose risks to you, please do not read any further.
The famous American singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain once quoted, “Rape is one of the most terrible crimes on earth and it happens every few minutes. The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women about how to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there.”
The source - what is the source? Growing up seeing rape cultures prosper, I know that traditionalists blame the victim for rape but do not raise a finger on the rapist. Apparently, the root of rape is the victim’s provocative clothes and attitude. Whilst that is completely untrue according to most of us and we may try to tell people that the problem is the rapist’s choice to rape and not someone’s skirt length, we must also educate ourselves about what gives rise to rape, to begin with: the rapist’s mind. This article is Under the Microscope’s attempt to familiarise you with what happens inside a rapist’s brain which makes them commit this unforgivable offence. Before elaborating on the complexities, I would like to start by explaining some of the basic concepts and terminology.
The brain is the world’s most complicated and intricate machine. It’s home to over 100 billion neurons, which are little messengers that communicate by transmitting electrical impulses. The command that makes one neuron send electrical impulses to another comes from various parts of the brain. These can be:
The neocortex, which is our “thinking” brain. This section of the brain produces thoughts that help us make decisions. When you’re confused about which college to attend, or how you could improve your performance at work, the neocortex helps you.
The limbic brain, which is responsible for the emotions that we feel. This brain is involved every time you have a crush on someone, or even when you have an argument with your mum.
The reptilian brain, which is the “instinctual” or “non-thinking” brain. This brain is in-charge of our involuntary actions, like protection against danger. For example, if your house is on fire, the most sensible thing to do is get out of the house first and then call for help. The reptilian brain allows you to do this in a matter of seconds. If your limbic brain had been involved in that situation, you would be thinking about the memories attached to that house rather than saving your life.
The diagram below shows a detailed overview of the sub-parts embedded within each of the 3 parts of the brain.
We can visualise what a normal brain looks like with the help of the diagrams above. However, our focus for today is thinking about what a rapist’s brain might look like. Scientific research is witness to the fact that a rapist’s brain looks different from what we have seen above. There are numerous abnormalities in a rapist’s brain, and I hope to shed light upon those now.
The thalamus, globus pallidus and striatum are segments of our brain that are involved in reward, motivation and moral judgement. Here, “reward” also includes sexual arousal. A study carried out by Chiao-Yun Chen and colleagues have reported that abnormalities in these parts of the brain have caused rapists to be over-responsive towards sexual stimuli. This was proven when tests were conducted on rapists’ brains and increased electrical activity was found in those parts of the brain. The result of the increased electrical stimulation meant that their moral judgements were no longer strong; their ability to differentiate between the right and wrong had met a significant decrease. The results also showed decreased electrical activity in the middle occipital cortex. A woman could be wearing perfectly modest clothes, but decreased electrical activity in this cortex meant that even a burqa (a garment worn by Muslim women that covers their whole body and face) could sexually arouse a rapist. Besides that, rapists also had enlarged caudates, a trait strongly linked to psychopathy. Such deformities have given rise to antisocial, rebellious and predatory behaviour in men, explaining why certain kinds of rapists may be more dangerous than others. The aforementioned parts of the brain are not the only ones involved in making the decision to rape. Ron Langevin, a senior research psychologist at the University of Toronto’s Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, conducted research on the temporal lobes of a group of rapists.
Our temporal lobes are involved in the creation and processing of memories, which also, unfortunately, takes sexual fantasies into account. This brain segment falls under the umbrella of our much bigger limbic brain, which is in charge of all our feelings and emotional connections, as mentioned previously. Langevin’s research has implied that frequent alcohol and drug abuse, as well as restrictive family upbringing, may have given rise to deformities in the temporal lobe. Foreseeably, when the rapists were interviewed, almost all of them had a history of a violent, destructive childhood, where they saw either one or both parents fighting regularly and venting out their anger on the child (who later became a rapist). As a result, they learned what they saw. By the time these people were in college, they got along better with like-minded people, i.e those that thought women are sexual objects, than people who were more balanced and goal-oriented. Langevin’s research was supported by the reasoning of another researcher, who emphasised on the role that our reptilian brain plays in matters concerned with sexual abuse and rape. As explained at the beginning of this article, our reptilian brain (which does not think) is in charge of all involuntary actions that are necessary for survival - breathing, drinking water, eating regularly, etc. That being said, sexual intercourse is important too because it contributes to the continuity of life and the next generation. Hence, sex is one of the things that the reptilian brain oversees. Whilst that may help us grow our family trees, this acts as a disadvantage as well.
Earlier in this article, we have seen how deformities in the thalamus and its surrounding areas have resulted in decreased moral judgement. This factor comes into play here. Because a rapist’s brain has a decreased ability to differentiate between the right and wrong, they are prone to be aroused every time victims are around. Hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and norepinephrine are secreted in their bodies which reduces their ability to think straight and drives them to rape. When we see an attractive person, our reptilian brain is instantly activated. It wants to connect with that person both emotionally and physically. The reptilian brain takes note of our feelings and sends electrical signals to the neocortex (our thinking brain). The neocortex is mature and smart. Sending more electrical signals back, the neocortex commands the reptilian brain to stay calm as it knows that engaging in sexual intercourse with that person would be wrong, especially if it is without consent. A rapist, however, fails to make that judgement. Though their neocortex is in a perfectly working condition, the electrical activity on the reptilian brain exceeds. It then becomes really difficult for the neocortex to overpower the reptilian brain.
Exploring this topic has allowed me to gain an insight into how our brain can either work wonders or drive us to commit unforgivable acts. But I want to mention that though certain brain deformities can lead an individual to rape, it does not justify the crime. A rapist’s brain indeed has several deformities, but it cannot be used as evidence in the courts of law. Even if we do consider these deformities, a rapist is not mentally unstable. Every single part of their brain is working; some parts just work more actively than others. It is also important to consider that how someone reacts because of their brain deformities varies from person to person. On this spectrum of having no brain deformities at all to being completely mentally unstable, even slight abnormalities can nurture different people. Someone with schizophrenia could be harmless, but someone who has something as common as a metastatic brain tumour could be predatory.
Nonetheless, a rapist’s brain can become normal again. They are all born with the ability to rectify their crimes. Just by taking baby steps every day, they can ensure that their neocortex has more power than their reptilian counterparts where moral judgement is concerned. By undertaking studies in mentally-stimulating subjects such as the hard sciences, engaging in vigorous exercise and practising some form of meditation, they can make the neocortex more alert. This will allow the neocortex to send impulses to the reptilian brain in the time of a blink, and steer them away from harbouring exploitative thoughts. Besides that, Under the Microscope strongly feels that we need to come together as a community to give a more rehabilitative approach to rapists as some developed countries do.
If you would like to read more about the structure of a rapist’s brain outside of this article, please feel free to have a look at this report: https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1120&context=rgsj
Neurons: A specialised cell that transmits information to other nerve cells, muscles or glands
Electrical impulses: Contains information which moves along the neuron
Involuntary: Something we do without conscious control or awareness; tasks that are second nature
Thalamus: A small structure of the brain that sends signals to the cerebral cortex
Globus pallidus: A brain structure involved in the directional and optional movement
Striatum: A group of nuclei involved in voluntary movement
Middle occipital cortex: Responsible for vision
Caudate: A group of nuclei involved in voluntary movement
Temporal lobe: Creates and preserves conscious and long-term memories
Dopamine: A hormone and a neurotransmitter that gives reward-like feelings
Oxytocin: A hormone that acts in the reproductive system of the body
Serotonin: A hormone linked to the stability of mood, feelings and well-being
Norepinephrine: A chemical in the body that acts as a neurotransmitter and a stress hormone
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