- Published: October 10, 2012
For some people, risk-taking behavior has extreme physiological effects. In the words of former Wall Street trader John Coates, "You become euphoric, delusional, you have less need for sleep, you have racing thoughts, an expanded appetite for risk, and less stringent requirements inthe risk and reward trade-off." As far as the experience sounds, it is much like an addiction, but it is an entirely internal situation. Coates further describes what he calls the "winner effect," the idea that having a decisive "victory" of some sort will drive the need to have more victories in the future. By succeeding or excelling in risky behaviors on Wall Street, traders are physiologically encouraged to continue a winning streak and take more and more risks. This effect is amplified by high testosterone levels.
That raises the question of whether or not these people whose bodies have keyed them into a risk-victory addiction are in control of their own actions. If someone has altered their cognitive processess by way of alcohol, for example, that person is still liable for any crimes he or she may commit while under that influence. In contrast, a person vulnerable to seizures who is taking proper medication to prevent them is not liable if a seizure happens and causes a collision while driving. The people whose bodies have tuned them into risk-takers and created an addicting reward pattern physiologically have altered mental states, but are they truly responsible?
If, for example, a Wall Street trader committed a crime as a result of this "winner effect," is that trader truly responsible? The cognitive processes in that person's brain would be affected by the physiological response to risk-taking behavior in a way that the person cannot willfully control. Regardless of the crime or the trader's ability to know whether something is right or wrong, that person's brain is under the influence of something he or she cannot control. Can that person truly be liable when their physiology is setting them up to fail?
From that point, what other physiological processes drive people to put them in a position of committing a crime? The man who became obsessed with pedophilia before his brain tumor was removed, for example, is certainly being set up by his physiology to be a criminal. How far might this concept stretch in the legal system?