Principal Investigators //

Kent A. Kiehl, PhD

Executive Science Officer and Director, Mobile Imaging Core and Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience
Professor of Translational Neuroscience
The Mind Research Network

Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Law
The University of New Mexico

Kent A. Kiehl

​Kent Kiehl’s laboratory has worked diligently along with correctional facilities in New Mexico and beyond to establish the world’s largest database of brain data from incarcerated populations.  We utilize a state of the art mobile scanning unit which can be deployed to remote locations, reaching populations for which functional brain imaging might otherwise be impossible or severely impractical.  These resources and relationships have been instrumental in the investigation of mental health issues that are particularly prevalent in those who are incarcerated, including psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, and externalizing disorders. We maintain several ongoing projects with an overall goal of achieving a better understanding of the interaction between brain function, genetics, and environmental factors ultimately informing improved interventions and prevention strategies and promoting better mental health as a whole. 

For more information on Dr. Kiehl, please refer to his Curriculum Vitae or at

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Brain Connectivity Changes in Individual Subjects with Neuropsychological Disease

Methods to provide better characterization of functional and structural brain network connectivity in patients with schizophrenia and addiction are being developed.(Calhoun et al., 2009; Greicius et al., 2007; Lynall et al., 2010; van den Heuvel et al., 2010)  The goal is to provide accurate markers of disease progression in individual subjects with neuropsychological diseases associated with brain connectivity alterations.

Development of Behavioral Prediction Models

A great deal of research has been devoted to identifying patterns of brain structure and function that characterize subgroups of antisocial populations, such as psychopathic and substance-dependent individuals. Our recent research has progressed towards moving beyond this descriptive research, using what has been learned to establish methods for the prospective analysis of specific outcomes of interest.  Our lab has collected the world’s largest multimodal database of neuroimaging, genetic information, and clinical assessments for thousands of incarcerated individuals, which grows larger every day.  This database has provided a unique capacity to develop highly reliable models which can effectively predict the likelihood of outcomes such as recidivism, treatment success, and relapse based on brain structure, brain function, genetic information and clinical assessment data.  Recent research in our lab has demonstrated the promising relative utility of functional brain activity in establishing these predictions, as it has the advantage of being a proximal measurement of cognitive processes that would directly contribute to these outcomes.  Effectively predicting complex behavioral outcomes such as recidivism might prove to be a key factor in choosing appropriate intervention strategies based on physical characteristics of the brain and its function.

Structural and Functional Differences in the Psychopathic Brain

Psychopaths are characterized by developmental neural impairments affecting paralimbic regions of the brain, which impair a wide range of cognitive functions. These deficits often instigate patterns of antisocial deviance, but also promote a unique set of personality traits which distinguish psychopaths from the more typical criminal offender.  Psychopaths are characteristically clever and even charming while simultaneously lacking empathy and remorse, embodying a callous willingness to exploit others for personal gain.  More subtle deficits can be isolated and measured with carefully controlled experimental tasks, and these include fundamental cognitive processes like target detection, response inhibition, error-monitoring, and language-semantic processing.  Our research is aimed at elucidating the nature of structural and functional differences in the brains of psychopaths, determining how these contribute to problems with cognitive function as well as socio-emotional function (e.g., emotion perception and understanding, moral sensitivity and judgment, empathy and perspective taking). We examine the development of these deficits from youth to maturity, studying juveniles and adult inmates, both male and female, strategically identifying neurocognitive features which impair normal brain development and distinguishing psychopaths from the everyday criminal offender.

Addiction & Forensics Research

Substance use disorders have received increasing, well-deserved attention from both researchers and public policy makers due to the detrimental and costly impact drugs of abuse have on individuals and society. Substance dependence is often characterized by compulsive use of a substance that provides short-lived pleasure and relief of anxiety, despite being aware of the harmful effects of these substances and the negative impact that it has on one’s life.  Nearly 80% of incarcerated populations meet criteria for a drug and/or alcohol use disorder, and our established relationships with prisons across the country is a valuable resource for conducting research into the neural and psychological factors which promote substance abuse.  One promising avenue of this research examines functional brain activity during expectancy of reward and while monitoring conflicting influences over behavior in tasks which require specific responses.  Psychopathy is also strongly associated with substance abuse.  With access to genetic data, brain data, and long-range behavioral outcomes of those who struggle with substance abuse, we are developing more sophisticated models of the factors contributing to this problem, which may highlight the most promising strategies for prevention and treatment.