A simple brain test is being developed by researchers that can potentially be used on a three-year-old to determine whether he or she is likely to grow up to become a criminal.
In the study, neuro-scientists at Duke University followed more than 1,000 children of pre-school age until they were 38, to find out if it was possible to predict who would go on to lead troubled lives.
The study showed that those with the lowest scores (20 percent) went on to commit more than 80 percent of crimes as adults. The test found that these children began their lives with mild problems with brain function and brain health.
In the study, the researchers tested the 'Pareto principle' -- also known as the '80-20 rule' -- which states that in the majority of systems, around 80 percent of the effects come from about 20 percent of the causes.
This principle, which worked in the field of computer science, biology, physics, economics, was also found to be true for societal burden. By assessing a child's history -- beginning at age three -- of disadvantage, and particularly their brain health, one can predict where he or she might end up.
"Being able to predict which children will struggle is an opportunity to intervene in their lives very early to attempt to change their trajectories, for everyone's benefit and could bring big returns on investment for government," Terrie Moffitt, Professor at Duke University in North Carolina, was quoted as saying to the Telegraph.co.uk.
If problematic children could be targeted early, society could benefit hugely in the long term, the researchers noted in the study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.