/ Media Reviews

Born Bad (1996). Producer: Cable New Network (CNN), 40 minutes. (Videotape available from CNN, 1-800-799-7676.)

Born Bad is a 40-minute CNN presentation that begins with the question: What if we could predict who will become violent criminals? The video focuses on research that explores the etiology of criminal behavior. This program also includes highlights of a recent federally funded conference on genetics and criminal behavior. One presenter calls for early detection and intervention while others disagree. Controversies surrounding the research are reviewed, and the narrator concludes that most researchers would agree that both biology and nurture are important in determining criminal behavior.

The last part of the video examines the complexities of the nature versus nurture issue. The narrator points out that brain differences have been found to exist between disruptive children and nondisruptive children. Exposure to violence can result in hormonal changes and cause new neural connections in the brain, raising the possibility that violence among our youth may be stimulating biological adaptations to violence among otherwise nonviolent youth, and thereby resulting in more violence. The narrator further suggests that inconsistent parental discipline may have a profound effect on development.

The program also reviews a case which suggests that some children are naturally violent, angry, and aggressive. Drugs and therapy are shown to have positive outcomes. The program ends with the comment that violence has been clearly associated with the Y chromosome, and that males commit 86% of all criminal behavior. The visual dramatizations in this video augment the impact of the narrative. It will undoubtedly serve as a stimulus for discussion in a variety of settings.

Jeremiah M. Strouse
Human Environmental Science
Central Michigan University

Minds to Crime (1995). Producer: Quality Time Productions in Association with The Learning Channel (TLC), 90 minutes. (Videotape available from TLC, 1-301-968-1999.)

Minds to Crime examines research on the varying types of adult criminal minds. It begins by profiling children who are at risk of becoming criminals. Early symptoms of not smiling, animal cruelty with no remorse, aggression toward peers, impulsivity, a lack of fear, and not responding to discipline are discussed with real-life examples. These symptoms are considered to be due to a low level of activity in the frontal cortex. The narrator suggests that a combination of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and conduct disorder is highly predictive of adult criminal behavior. The video implies that, without intervention, there is a downward spiral. For example, an inability to focus and concentrate leads to poor school performance, which in turn results in a poor self-image. Exasperated parents often become reactive and resort to physical punishment, which is counterproductive. Children with this disorder need help and understanding, not punishment.

The video presents a recommended intervention of drugs (Ritalin), therapy, and parenting education. Ritalin stimulates frontal brain activity which enables the child to focus on an event and reduce impulsivity. The child is taught to understand how his/her behavior can hurt others, and the parents are taught to understand their child's condition and to adopt more appropriate parenting behaviors. Before-and-after portrayals of cases show the effectiveness of this treatment. Even adult criminals are shown retraining their brains to function differently via biofeedback.

Although this video presents several very good graphics of the brain and interconnected functions, the producers do not promote a model of biological determinism but suggest that social scientists and biologists work together to develop more adequate explanations of criminal behavior. In the concluding segment the narrator states that violence is caused by a mix of biosocial factors, and that genetics or brain damage may be merely predisposing factors. The narrator further suggests that a combination of birth complications and maternal rejection results in a very high probability of criminal outcomes. At the end of the video, an appeal is made for a need to reduce birth complications. This provocative video will serve a variety of educational purposes.

Jeremiah M. Strouse
Human Environmental Science
Central Michigan University

Intervention and Assistance for Youth at Risk (1996). (Video catalogue available from Films for the Humanities and Sciences, P.O. Box 2035, Princeton, NJ, 08543-2053, 1-800-257-5126.)

This well-annotated publisher's brochure includes color stills and annotated summaries of 40 videotapes from series such as What Can We Do About Violence as well as single video programs that focus on domestic violence, youth intervention, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse, and families under stress. The newest series Solutions to Violence features leading authorities on youth violence from across the country and emphasizes practical solutions to violence problems. A partial listing of programs follows:

  • Solutions to Violence

    On parenting; Making our neighborhoods safe; Rebuilding communities; Early intervention; Understanding violence; Decoding the rap: Gangs and rap music. (30 minutes each)

  • What Can We Do About Violence

    Juveniles locked up; Domestic violence, street violence; Crime in our inner cities; Solutions for children. (56 minutes each)

  • Youth Intervention

    Kids and crime (27 minutes); Avoiding conflict: Dispute resolution without violence (52 minutes); Crackdown on crime: Taking back our neighborhoods (23 minutes); Fighting back: Successful solutions to crime (28 minutes); Teens talk straight about their criminal behavior (28 minutes); Kids and crime (28 minutes); Kids and guns (28 minutes); Street gangs of Los Angeles (44 minutes); Girls in gangs (28 minutes); Juveniles and the death penalty (58 minutes); Crime and human nature (28 minutes).

  • Suicide

    Dying to be heard: Is anybody listening? (25 minutes); Teenage suicide (19 minutes); Suicide: The teenager's perspective (26 minutes); Suicide: The parent's perspective (26 minutes).

  • Domestic Violence

    Domestic violence: Behind closed doors (28 minutes); Family violence: Breaking the chain (25 minutes).

  • Child Abuse

    Childhood physical abuse (26 minutes); Childhood sexual abuse (26 minutes); Child sex abusers (28 minutes).

  • Families Under Stress

    The impact of violence on children (28 minutes); A life sentence (26 minutes); Violence and sex on TV (28 minutes).

Libby Balter Blume
Department of Psychology
University of Detroit Mercy