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Logo of jnnpsycJournal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and PsychiatryVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2001 December; 71(6): 720–726.
PMCID: PMC1737651

Neuropsychiatry of frontal lobe dysfunction in violent and criminal behaviour: a critical review


OBJECTIVES—To establish the link between frontal lobe dysfunction and violent and criminal behaviour, based on a review of relevant literature.
METHODS—Articles relating evidence of frontal lobe dysfunction with violence or crime were collected through a MEDLINE search using the keyword "frontal lobe" combined with the terms "aggression," "violence," "crime," "antisocial personality disorder," "psychopathy," "impulse control disorders", and "episodic dyscontrol." Reference lists were then searched for additional articles.
RESULTS—High rates of neuropsychiatric abnormalities reported in persons with violent and criminal behaviour suggest an association between aggressive dyscontrol and brain injury, especially involving the frontal lobes. The studies reviewed support an association between frontal lobe dysfunction and increased aggressive and antisocial behaviour. Focal orbitofrontal injury is specifically associated with increased aggression. Deficits in frontal executive function may increase the likelihood of future aggression, but no study has reliably demonstrated a characteristic pattern of frontal network dysfunction predictive of violent crime.
CONCLUSIONS—Clinically significant focal frontal lobe dysfunction is associated with aggressive dyscontrol, but the increased risk of violence seems less than is widely presumed. Evidence is strongest for an association between focal prefrontal damage and an impulsive subtype of aggressive behaviour.

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