News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Should Aurora Shooter James Holmes Be Subjected to “Truth Serum”?

Amytal Sodium

A Colorado judge has approved the involuntary administration of a “truth serum” to Aurora shooter James Holmes should he plead not guilty by reason of insanity to charges related to last year’s shooting rampage at a movie theater. Holmes is charged with 166 counts, including murder, attempted murder and other charges for the July 20 incident, which left 12 people dead and 58 wounded by gunfire.

The court has not released the name of the drug to be used, but it would most likely be sodium amobarbital, also known as sodium amytal, or another short-acting barbituate.

Narcoanalytic interviews, as they are known, involve putting the witness on an intravenous drip of the drug until he or she shows signs of impairment such as slurred speech. The interviewer begins with simple questions such as the witness’s name before progressing to questions related to the crime at hand.

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Watch: Edward Hundert discusses “Three Approaches to the Mind”

On April 25th, 2013, CLBB will host an evening of discussion with experts from different disciplines to understand the roots of human behavior, and how neuroscience may be able to inform so-called “Models of the Mind” used in the justice system.

The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Edward Hundert, who in the 50-minute talk here presents a synthesis of ideas about the mind from philosophers, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists in an effort to find a common language through which these diverse views  can contribute insights to one another. Drawing on thinkers from Plato, Kant, Freud, Hegel, and Hume to modern neuroscientists and researchers in artificial intelligence, Dr. Hundert compares the ways various fields interpret the “nature-nurture debate” around the question of how our basic concepts of the world find their way into our brains. He concludes by comparing all of these cognitive theories of knowledge with moral theories of justice, challenging us to appreciate just how interactive the relationship is – in the realms of both knowledge and values – between the human brain and the world we share.

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Joshua Buckholtz Awarded Sloan Research Fellowship

CLBB Faculty Member Joshua Buckholtz is one of 126 scholars awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship this year, and one of five from Harvard. Established “to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise,” the award provides $50,000 to be applied however the recipients like: “Sloan Research Fellows,” according to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, “are free to pursue whatever lines of inquiry are of the most compelling interest to them.”

Fellowships are awarded in eight scientific fields—chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, evolutionary and computational molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics. Applicants are nominated by fellow scientists and chosen through close cooperation with the scientific community.

According to the Harvard Gazette, Buckholtz will use the fellowship “to exploit new tools to discover brain circuit-level mechanisms governing impulsive decision-making, and to develop novel circuit-based treatments for impulsive symptoms in psychiatric and neurological disorders.”

“I’m honored and thrilled to be selected, and excited about the work that this award will allow me to pursue,” he told the Gazette. “The pathological inability to delay gratification — what we call impulsive decision-making — contributes to distress and impairment across a range of disorders, especially drug addiction and ADHD, but also schizophrenia and Parkinson’s.”

When he announced the award in 1941, Alfred P. Sloan Jr. said, “Too often we fail to recognize and pay tribute to the creative spirit. It is the spirit that creates our jobs… There has to be this pioneer. The individual who has the courage, the ambition to overcome the obstacles that always develop when one tries to do something worthwhile, especially when it is new and different.”

Watch: Lisa Feldman Barrett discusses the Science of Emotion

Do emotions reside within single regions of the brain?  Are thoughts and feelings handled by separate parts of the brain? Is the Justice system using concepts of emotion and cognition that draw from our current understanding of the brain? If you believe CLBB faculty member Lisa Feldman Barrett, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding no.  Watch her compelling presentation that could change the way you think about the human mind and its complex relationship with behavior.

This presentation was given in the historic Ether Dome at Mass General Hospital on February 7th, 2013, for the first CLBB-sponsored Grand Rounds of the MGH Department of Psychiatry.

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5 Disorders Share Genetic Risk Factors: Jordan Smoller in the NYT

Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, major depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, though seemingly unrelated, share several common genetic glitches, according to a study published by The Lancet this week, with CLBB faculty Jordan Smoller as lead author.

In the largest genetic study yet of psychiatric disorders, Smoller, in collaboration with the Cross-Disorder Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, analyzed genetic data from more than 60,000 people worldwide. Among their findings were that the five disorders shared abnormalities in two genes used in a major signaling system in the brain. What, if any, disorder those abnormalities might lead to is believed to depend on environmental or contributing genetic factors.

The findings could contribute to a new protocol for treating mental illness that would rely more heavily on genetic information and less on observed and reported symptoms.

The New York Times reported on the study, quoting Dr. Smoller: “What we identified here is probably just the tip of an iceberg,” said Dr. Jordan Smoller, lead author of the paper and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “As these studies grow we expect to find additional genes that might overlap.”

Read full article in the New York Times.

View interview with Dr. Smoller on CBS This Morning: