How to study doms: Lift out their brains and slice them up

Another in the Great Moments in Science series.

Research carried out in the 1980s attributed “sadism” to brain damage. The basis was a research project whose study group was dead men who, when they were alive, had committed murders involving dismemberment. The funny thing was that the murders didn’t necessarily have any sexual motive at all, so it was a very strange leap of … logic? or something else, perhaps bigotry … to link it to bdsm.  

Ah, the Abnormal brain. Let's use that one!

Ah, the Abnormal brain. Let’s use that one!

Anyway, the study involved slicing up the brains of dead men who’d committed genuinely horrific crimes, and reporting on structural and other abnormalities. They found that murderous insanity often was linked with brain damage, and they published their results as “Sexual sadism: Brain, blood and behaviour.” (In 1988.)

The observation that murderous insanity may be related to brain damage is not startling; generalising this finding to what they called “sadists” is, on the other hand, not only not science, it’s completely off-the-scale bonkers. 

It’s like studying heterosexuality by taking CAT scans of serial rapists. And they wouldn’t do that: why, that would obviously be silly.

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