Friday, June 3, 2011

Is decreasing lead poisoning related to decreasing crime?

This article over at Wired looks at the link between lead poisoning and crime--in particular the theory that correlates the decrease in exposure to leaded gas and lead paint over the past 50 years with the decrease in crime over the same time period. The basic idea is that childhood lead poisoning impacts the part of the brain that is associated with decision making, impulse control and mood regulation. The whole article is worth reading. 

Teaser quote:

In recent years, neuroscientists have made important progress in identifying the precise mechanisms by which lead exposure reduces impulse control. Here, for instance, is a recent PLOS study from the Cincinnati Lead Study, in which the blood lead level of babies born in poor areas of Cincinnati were repeatedly measured between 1979 and 1984. Twenty years later, the researchers tracked down these subjects and put them in MRI machines, allowing them to measure the brain volume of participants. The researchers found that exposure to lead as a child was linked with a significant loss of brain volume in adulthood, particularly in men. Furthermore, there was a “dose-response” effect, in which the greatest brain volume loss was seen in participants with the greatest lead exposure. What’s especially tragic is that the loss of volume was concentrated in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain closely associated with executive function and impulse control. 

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