Struggling to understand killers

Crime scene: cards and tobacco abandoned on a table in the Old Town in Ansbach, Germany, after the 25 July attack. Photograph: EPA After last week’s wave of tragic attacks in Germany, Boris Johnson was criticised for publicly speculating that Islamist extremism was behind the shooting in Munich. While our new foreign secretary’s comments may have been inappropriate – and wrong – his brain, like most people’s, was subject to an overwhelming impulse to find a possible motivation for an action as soon as it occurs. Our desire to understand the motivations of a killer involves a particular part of the brain called the ‘temporo-parietal junction’. Also known as the ‘mindreading’ area of the brain, it automatically ascribes possible incentives, beliefs and desires to others. This reflex developed to help…

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