Sentencing Debate and Neuroscience

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The key question in this section of the analysis is when does a person recognize the difference between a criminal and a psychopath? Although the solution may be unclear, Barbra Bradley Hagerty, a psychotherapist, makes it seem more personal. She examines the narrative approach to understanding the use of technology in identifying methods of sentencing people pronounced as psychopaths or just regular criminals in her article titled Inside a Psychopath's Brain: The Sentencing Debate. The use of brain scan technologies by many psychiatrists to comprehend the reasoning behind murders and other crimes committed by people, whether they were psychopaths or simply not, piqued my interest in this piece. The article was found online from the NPR website where the author served. I chose the article after considering options in neuroscience and how they can impact lives of many prisoners jailed for things they do without mental control. The article begins by introducing Kent Kheil, one of the best psychopath investigators, and it makes an emphasis to a psychopath yet to be sentenced called Dagan. By the use of a mobile MRI, he uses the device to travel across the country in order to study the brain of inmates (Hagerty 1). He notes that a non-psychopath will always have their limbic system light up when they come across a morally objectionable image but for psychopaths that are always not the case. The result of this is that neuroscience and neuro-imaging are the new disciplines that will change how individuals punish and how to imprison law offenders. It is clear that studies in criminal justice and psychology point out that, the use of brain-scanning technologies can have an effect on the level of the sentence given to psychopaths from death to life imprisonment or any other way that they can pay for their crimes.

Rhetoric Analysis


Barbara Bradley is a former NPR religion correspondent and she was once the bestselling author according to the New York Times. Her work in neuroscience and criminal justice field have always embedded a clear message to her audience who are mostly those with interest in brain scans such as Kheil and those making legal judgments such as the Jury in Dagan’s case.

Author’s attitude

The author attitude towards the subject is optimistic that decisions in criminal justice will change for the better with the use of neuroscience and neuroimaging for psychopaths.

The Audience

The author’s audiences are all individuals interested in brain scanning and those who feel that decisions need to change for the better in criminal justice system.


The message she intends to pass across is that while most criminal justice decisions are based on facts, the use of MRI is changing this conception, especially when it involves the psychopaths. Brain scanning machines will change the manner judges and juries will decide cases, particularly with regard to psychopaths and non-psychopaths.


The demand for this technology is what will change the ever rising debates on their use within the justice system but even with that the technology is already here and will continue improving legal judgments if needed.


The author tries with all her moral skill to ensure that her audience sticks to her version of the story by employing certain persuasive skills. The most notable one is the application of ethos. Ethos merit the focus of the audience, especially when someone makes a comment about a certain investigation. In Barbara’s case, the best ones are the comments made by Kent Kheil. For example, when he says “we have a lot of psychopaths who tend to process this information very differently” (Hagerty 1). He goes further to say that Brian resembles the same groups of inmates who process the information differently (Center for Science and Law 1). People like Dugan are not in a position to access their emotions because the physical aspect of their brain is different from non-psychopaths and therefore they should attract lesser punishments and not death.


The use of Pathos is not applied in this article in any sense.


Other than ethos, Hagerty uses logos but to a limited degree when he states that Kheil has used the mobile brain scanner for over 1,100 inmates and that out of them 20% (percent) were psychopaths (p.1). It therefore translates to the understanding that, the degree of life sentencing should increase and that of death sentences should reduce instantly to curb for the shortfall in the use of neuroscience in legal decision-making.

Discussion and Conclusion


The only evidence that stands out from the article about psychopaths thinking different from non-psychopaths is the use of moral violation images, for instance, the KKK burning cross and the use of neutral action like standing next to a Bunsen burner. When they are close to these images they tend to show no sign of remorse or feeling meaning they are different.


The study of brain scan technology is very useful to all people that have an interest in criminal justice system and also those with an intention of understanding more about psychopathy.

Not Effective For

There is no limit to who the article applies to because everyone is exposed to different forms of crime. For those who experience it firsthand while noting the degree of horror involved, they can be in a better position to note who is a psychopath (individual without emotional breaks) and who is not a psychopath (normal citizens).


The rise of technology in the purposes of deciding cases keeps on growing with the advent of neuroscience and neurotechnology systems. In this sense, the need to have judges make fair decisions in courts remain quite evident. A person’s brain can be assessed to understand if they are psychopaths or not so that a lesser and equal punishment can be attached. The result of this is that the justice system will be full of praise because of the fairness involved in judgments.

Works Cited

Center for Science and Law. “Inside A Psychopath’s Brain; The Sentencing Debate.”, 2015. Web.

Hagerty, Barbara B. "Inside A Psychopath’S Brain: The Sentencing Debate". Neulaw.Org, 2015,

June 19, 2023

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