Violence on the brain

By Kimberly Clark, Daily Free Press Staff Writer

United States Staff Sergeant Robert Bales’ alleged actions on March 11 could not be wholly his fault. His brain could be the cause.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traumatic brain injuries, or TBI’s, are the cause of about 52,000 deaths in the United States annually.

That’s one third of all injury-related deaths per year.

The Centre for Neuro Skills identifies the frontal lobes of the brain as the most vulnerable to TBI’s. They are large in size and are located at the front of the cranium. Unsurprisingly, frontal area injuries account for the majority of TBIs.

The effects of frontal area injuries are widespread and can be very serious since the frontal lobes are responsible for many important functions. Common results of such an injury can be memory loss, loss of motor function and difficulty speaking.

A person with frontal lobe damage may also experience dramatic changes in his or her personality and social behavior.

The emotional effects of TBI’s are being addressed in emerging scientific research that has been exploring the effects of war on soldiers’ brains.

According to Nature Journal of Science, The Pentagon reported that more than 230,000 military officers have had some type of TBI. There is the possibility that this number could be greater since less serious injuries may not be reported.

This research will likely take center stage in the defense of Bales, who allegedly shot and killed 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar, Afghanistan on March 11. Among the victims were nine children and three women.

US officials told the media that Bales had suffered a TBI. His lawyers later announced that Bales might be suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder associated with violence and destructive behavior.

The question at hand is whether or not a brain injury could actually provoke a person to such violent acts as murder.

Dr. James Giordano, director of the Center for Neurotechnology Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Virginia explained in Nature that aggression and violent behavior are effects of TBIs.

Kevin Kit Parker, a biomedical engineering professor at Harvard University notes in Nature that the data collected by the Veterans Administration demonstrates that some athletes suffering from TBIs had also suffered from violent outbursts.

Parker also said that the same was true for soldiers.

The reason for violent behavior links back to the functions of the frontal lobes of the brain.

“Frontal lobes are needed in order for us to act appropriately in public, or in a delicate situation, like a date,” said David Hovda, director of the Brain Injury Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles in Nature. “If we don’t have working frontal lobes, we may say and do things that are bizarre and inappropriate.”

Hovda, along with others, is hesitant to associate Bales’ actions with a TBI since it is unlikely that a brain injury could induce such violence.

Hovda suggests that Bales’ lawyers might present the case that a TBI led to Bates developing PTSD, and that caused him to lash out violently.

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