Heyo, Ayron here, and I’ve just gotta say I’ve been missing out on some great anime. Haven’t been keeping up with recent ones as much as I’d like, Re:Zero, Orange, Erased, etc. In place of those, I’ve been making my way through a series a good friend recommended to me: Psycho-Pass.
For those unaware, the whole series revolves around a very unique, controversial, and interesting feature: the ability to measure someone’s propensity for crime numerically. If someone has a higher likelihood of committing a crime, then they have a higher “Psycho Pass” that reflects that. Broken down specifically into Crime Coefficients, and Hues, if someone’s Coefficient is over 100, they qualify for instant incarceration. If it’s over 300, instant execution.
Psycho-Pass tackles this theoretical world in quite an interesting fashion, and it’s actually something I became really curious about: would it actually be possible, psychologically speaking, to measure the likelihood of criminal behavior? So I did some research, and…well, I think it’s pretty interesting, to say the least.
If you’re interested at all about this, then get ready to learn about some Criminal Psychology, and a little bit of basic biology while we’re at it. I haven’t gotten through much of Psycho-Pass yet, so although there will be some details from the first few episodes, nothing too spoilery, don’t you worry!
What’s a Psycho-Pass?
When we are first introduced to the world of Psycho-Pass, we get a break down of how the whole system works. The police force of the 22nd century makes use of Inspectors, essentially supervisors, and Enforcers, essentially “hunting dogs,” all equipped with a special type of gun: a Dominator. These guns measure the Crime Coefficients of people at a glance, and if, at that moment, the Coefficients are above 100 or 300, the Inspector or Enforcer has permission to shoot, either paralyzing or killing the unfortunate target. That’s interesting, but if we’re going into a theoretical situation about how measuring someone’s Criminality would work in real life, we need to know how exactly this works. According to the Psycho-Pass wiki, “[The Crime Coefficient] is calculated and determined by the target’s stress level (Hue) and other biological readings via cymatic scan…” There are other factors at work in the anime, specifically, the hivemind Sibyl System, but for the purposes of making it all real, we’re just going to consider what the scans can tell us. Seems rather straightforward then, right? But then again, how would that work? What “biological readings” are we looking at here, and how would they be measured?
There is some information we can draw from the first few episodes of the series that provide some hints as to how it works. For instance, we have a scene where, in the course of a few minutes of pursuit, a criminal’s Crime Coefficient rose from 126, to 193, to over 300. What’s more, it is shown throughout the series that merely being aimed at by a Dominator can raise Crime Coefficients by rather startling amounts: making even totally innocent people appear to have a higher chance of committing a crime. Such circumstances imply that, beyond stress, an element of either fear, or adrenaline is involved. The brain, reacting to what could be a life or death situation, thinks it has to do something, preps the body to react, and in doing so, makes it even more likely that they could be considered a potential criminal.
How Would it Work IRL?
For now, we know that Crime Coefficient is measured by stress, and biological factors that probably include fear and adrenaline to some respect. But, let’s mix some real-life scientific knowledge into this: what would a high-tech weapon like the Dominator really do to work out Crime Coefficient?
Let’s get into this topic first – what the hell is a “Cymatic Scan”? Cymatic, for those unaware, is Greek for “wave,” and is often used to refer to the visualization of vibrations from sounds. Based on how the Dominator works, however, a Cymatic Scan would seem to be referring to waves of light and subatomic particles: in other words, X-Rays, Gamma Rays, etc. In this future, such a device would almost make a bit more sense, seeing as even now, radio waves are used to scan the brain by measuring blood flow, making a slightly more in-depth version of such a scan conceptually possible in a high-tech, futuristic world.
So we now know how a Dominator could potentially obtain measurements of the body, but now, what is it looking for? Considering the first factor – stress – we have a good starting point. Stress, biologically speaking, is controlled by three different organs – the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands. The process involves multiple different steps, but essentially, certain hormones in your body are released such as adrenaline, and cortisol. Through tracking amounts of these hormones, an Enforcer could then determine how much stress the body is under: and therefore, how likely it is for a person to do something drastic to escape said stress.
So we know now how stress could theoretically be measured, but what about the vague “other biological readings?” What would these readings even consist of?
To perhaps get an idea of what we could look at to discern potential criminal behavior, we can take a look at the minds of real criminals. Overall, it appears that the amygdala, which, according to the American Psychological Association, “is the part of the brain that deals with fear, aggression, and social interactions,” is smaller in the brains of criminals as a whole. What is interesting about this, however, is that such a change in brain patterns wouldn’t make anyone inclined to fear-rather, it would become much harder to feel fear at all, seemingly contrasting with the abilities of the Dominator from the show, increasing Crime Coefficients of those who are scared. However, this just shows that the system in Psycho Pass, apart from some obvious moral questions, have a fatal flaw that makes it extremely inefficient.
What’s Wrong, How To Fix It
Conceptually speaking, the idea of Enforcers, Inspectors, and guns that can stop crimes before they even occur, is rather ingenious. Imagine, we could stop all crime easily, Enforcers to do the worst of the work, and Inspectors to make sure nothing goes wrong! However, Psycho-Pass emphasizes that this idea comes with quite a few cons, as it appears that the judgment system used by the Dominators can easily target those who are innocent, not to mention, giving Enforcers the ability to kill at a glance. What I’d like to emphasize, however, is the basic psychological, biological flaw.
Essentially, it appears that instead of considering immediate biological and mental factors, Dominators judge Crime Coefficient primarily by stress, fear, and adrenaline. Measuring the hormones that indicate those three things is flawed, simply because such things are present at some point in each and every human, while real criminals are more likely to actually not feel fear at all. This is most evident in episode 4, where a crowd of innocent people, thrown into panic, are shot by two Enforcers trying to find the true criminal, simply because they were scared.
In the first episode, the protagonist, Inspector Akane Tsunemori, is faced with a very blatant example of a situation in which an innocent woman could have been executed, simply for feeling panic. The woman in question had been kidnapped, nearly raped, and had just witnessed an enforcer brutally kill her captor, and was understandably scared, running away. Enforcers then pursued her, noting that her Crime Coefficient was rising, and ultimately, the woman was close to getting shot and killed. That’s where Tsunemori steps in- stopping the Enforcer, and speaking to her in a more calming manner, lowering her Coefficient to a level where she was able to be paralyzed, rather than murdered.
Apart from being a good moment of characterization for Tsunemori, it shows that the number that theoretically shows how likely it is that someone would be to commit a crime, can easily be influenced by factors that disappear extremely quickly. The difference between calming someone down, and subduing or executing them is far too small, simply because fear, stress, and adrenaline seem to have far too large of an effect on Crime Coefficient.
In making such a system reality, instead of putting such stock in arbitrary things such as fear and adrenaline, what could be considered in weeding out potential criminals is looking at parts of the brain that fundamentally differ from other, normal people. People with antisocial personality disorder as well as psychopaths, have far different brain structures, that have been shown to lead people to commit crimes at a far higher rate than others. Sections of the frontal lobe for people with ASPD are smaller, and for psychopaths, the amygdala, frontal lobe, and the cortex as a whole are smaller, leading to a lack of empathy, remorse, and guilt. Such factors differentiate most members of society from people who are much more willing to commit crimes: not to say that there aren’t exceptions, but when, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, a little over half of all prisoners have some sort of serious mental health problem, it feels like such a limit would make the system a BIT more efficient.
Perhaps, if such factors were considered in carrying out a “cymatic scan,” then innocents wouldn’t have to worry so much about getting gunned down for feeling fear. Although, of course, there’s still a load of other moral issues to be considered, and a presumably corrupt in-universe hivemind to factor in, at least we know a bit more about what the biology is behind it all.
Any thoughts on the subject? I had some fun looking into the psychology of it, and so far, I’m really loving Psycho-Pass! At episode 7 right now, and it’s continuing to be an intriguing series! But yeah. Hope this was a decently interesting read, and hope the rest of your day goes well!