The Makings of a Criminal — Just Add Lead

The lead-crime hypothesis and its effect on modern-day society.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

Could lead poisoning cause high crime rates?

In the 1980s, crime rates were at an all-time high. It was the wild wild west, with so many infamous serial killers such as Larry Eyler, Joseph Christopher, Richard Ramirez, Doug Clark, and Carol Bundy.

The lead-crime hypothesis

What does seem to fit the national trend is called the lead-crime hypothesis:

Lead exposure during infancy

Children are most susceptible to absorbing lead from their environment. Lead poisoning causes developmental issues and aggressive behavior as the children mature. Once the children reach the formative years of young adulthood, they are more likely to participate in criminal activity (hence the 20-year shift in the lead-crime trends mentioned above).

How lead affects the brain

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

Why are lead-exposed children aggressive?

There was a study out of the University of California (San Francisco) that found that the pre-frontal cortex was smaller in adults that were exposed to lead as young children. The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that’s responsible for mood regulation and decision-making, so these activities are impaired in lead-exposed adults.

Lead is still poisoning our children

Although crime rates have dropped from their peak in the 1980s, lead-based products continue to poison children. From 2014 through 2019, the city of Flint (Michigan), was struggling to get clean drinking water after their supply was contaminated with lead. During this time period, more than 5% of children tested had elevated lead concentrations in their blood.

What should we do about it?

Firstly, children need to be tested for elevated lead concentrations in their blood. Unfortunately, this is not something doctors routinely do anymore. We are quick to assume that a child with developmental or behavioral concerns was simply “born this way”.

Lead is not the only problem

It is important to avoid blaming lead-poisoning for all criminal activities. It is likely a combination of economic and sociological factors that need to be improved.

Engineer, Mad Scientist, and Business Enthusiast (Keep in touch:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store