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

“About Face”: Lisa Feldman Barrett Profiled in Boston Magazine

Lisa Feldman BarrettCLBB faculty member Lisa Feldman Barrett is the subject of a thoughtful profile in Boston magazine‘s July issue considering her work studying the nature of emotion—and trying to refute one of modern psychology’s most influential and celebrated thinkers.

Barrett, who was recently named University Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, the university’s highest honor, has spent decades trying to prove her belief that the foundational findings of psychologist Paul Ekman are unsound. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Ekman, a psychologist in San Francisco, developed a theory that people all over the world express and experience emotion in the same way, regardless of sex, age, race, background or any number of biological and sociological factors. He would go on to develop a system by which he argues anyone can read and interpret others’ reflex-like microexpressions, allowing them to assess, among other things, whether someone is lying.

Ekman’s work became the basis for special training by the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the New York Police Department, and the Transportation Security Administration—but some researchers argue that it oversimplifies vast and complicated processes behind real emotion, Barrett chief among them.

“People don’t display and recognize emotions in universal ways, she believes, and emotions themselves don’t have their own places in the brain or their own patterns in the body,” the Boston Magazine article reads. “Instead, her research has led her to conclude that each of us constructs them in our own individual ways, from a diversity of sources: our internal sensations, our reactions to the environments we live in, our ever-evolving bodies of experience and learning, our cultures….

“It’s a paradigm shift that has put Barrett on the front lines of one of the fiercest debates in the study of emotion today,” the article asserts, “because if Barrett is correct, we’ll need to rethink how we interpret mental illness, how we understand the mind and self, and even what psychology as a whole should become in the 21st century.”

Read the whole article at BostonMagazine.com.

 

Astor Heir Begins Sentence for Stealing from Incapacitated Mother

After several rounds of motions and appeals looking to delay or prevent incarceration, Anthony D. Marshall, the 89-year-old son of Manhattan billionaire Brooke Astor, has begun a prison sentence for stealing millions of dollars from his mother.

Marshall was convicted in 2009, alongside Astor family lawyer Francis X. Morrissey Jr., of altering his mother’s will to leave himself tens of millions of dollars. Astor, who died in 2007 at the age of 105, was more than 100 at the time and suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The case has raised awareness of both elder abuse and the potential legal complications resulting from Alzheimer’s and dementia—and old age continues to be a theme in the case. Lawyers for Marshall, who suffers from Parkinson’s and heart problems, released a statement lamenting that the octogenarian must serve prison time. “Incarceration will simply make his final days more tortured and undoubtedly fewer in number,” it said.

Read more at the New York Times. 

 

Recommended Resource: Law and Neuroscience Bibliography

The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University has been steadily building a bibliography of important articles, book chapters, edited volumes and other publications by scholars in law and other disciplines as part of its mission to serve as a resource for the law and neuroscience scholarly community.

The bibliography has surpassed one thousand entries and is still growing. Abstracts are provided where available, and some works are linked. It can be accessed on the organization’s website. Information about the resource is available here.

New Book Discusses Misuses of Neuroscience

Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, a new book by psychiatrist Sally Satel and psychologist and professor Scott O. Lilienfeld, argues that current real-world applications of neuroscience may be misguided and even harmful.

“Never before has the brain so vigorously engaged the public imagination,” the authors write in the book’s introduction, a development that both delights and dismays them, as much of what enters the popular discussion, they argue, “offers facile and overly mechanistic explanations for complicated behaviors.”

The book goes on to consider current neuroscientific capabilities, their uses, and, crucially, their limitations.

Satel is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a lecturer at Yale University School of Medicine, and a practicing psychiatrist. Lilienfeld is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Emory University.

CLBB faculty Steven E. Hyman and Jeffrey Rosen have endorsed Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience:

“Satel and Lilienfeld have produced a remarkably clear and important discussion of what today’s brain science can and cannot deliver for society. As a neuroscientist, I confess that I also enjoyed their persuasive skewering of hucksters whose misuse of technology in the courtroom and elsewhere is potentially damaging not only to justice but also to the public understanding of science.”—Dr. Steven E. Hyman, Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

Brainwashed challenges the much-hyped claim that neuroscience will transform everything from marketing to the legal system to our ideas of blameworthiness and free will. Satel and Lilienfeld bring much needed skeptical intelligence to this field, giving neuroscience its due while recognizing its limitations. This is an invaluable contribution to one of our most contested debates about the ability of science to transform society.”—Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law, George Washington University and Legal Affairs Editor, The New Republic

 

The influence of neuroscience on US Supreme Court decisions about adolescents’ criminal culpability

ABSTRACT: In the past 8 years, the US Supreme Court has issued landmark opinions in three cases that involved the criminal culpability of juveniles. In the most recent case, in 2012, a ruling prohibited states from mandating life without parole for crimes committed by minors. In these cases, the Court drew on scientific studies of the adolescent brain in concluding that adolescents, by virtue of their inherent psychological and neurobiological immaturity, are not as responsible for their behaviour as adults. This article discusses the Court’s rationale in these cases and the role of scientific evidence about adolescent brain development in its decisions. I conclude that the neuroscientific evidence was probably persuasive to the Court not because it revealed something new about the nature of adolescence but precisely because it aligned with common sense and behavioural science.

Source: Steinberg, Laurence. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 14, 513–518 (2013). Published online