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

Norms and Neurons

Minds, Brains, and LawOn his Neuroethics & Law Blog, editor Adam Kolber has convened its first online book symposium. His guest bloggers, who include CLBB faculty member Amanda Pustilnik, will discuss the recently published Minds, Brains, and the Law by Michael Pardo and Dennis Patterson.

In her post, Pustilnik focuses on questions taken up in the book on whether neuroscience could be used to answer normative questions about responsibility, in legal and criminal settings. For example, could brain scans be used to identify a distinct neural signature for diminished capacity? Highlighting the differences between social (i.e., law) and natural (i.e., neuroscientific) categories, Pustilnik argues that answers to particular normative problems can’t be directly resolved by “looking in the brain.” However, she does think that psychiatry and neuroscience have an important role to play in elucidating empirical impairments for those normative states, and in communicating to law and society what we could reasonably expect from people with those impairments. Read Pustilnik’s post “Norms & Neurons” below.

Michael Pardo and Dennis Patterson have written a Big Book, an ambitious book, on the relationship between neuroscience and law.  Minds, Brains, and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience is the book, or at least one of the books, that the field of law and neuroscience has needed.  To say that neuroscience is or even could be relevant to law rests on important presuppositions about the relationship between brain and mind, the nature of mind, the nature and purposes of law, and the relationship between mind and law.  The theoretical and epistemological underpinnings of these enterprises remain under-examined in law and neuroscience scholarship.  This is not because authors in the field are philosophically naïve – far from.  Rather, it is because of the richness of the material and the newness of the field.  There is much work to be done, and there will be for some time.

P&P great contribution with this work to law and neuroscience scholarship is to offer a non-reductionist argument for the possibility of a meaningful interrelationship between neuroscience and law.  While accepting the materialist premise (there is no ghost in the machine), P&P take aim at a form of reductionism, eliminative materialism, that lies at the heart of much law & neuroscience scholarship.  In so doing, they offer a strong case for the need to understand brains not as the fundamental unit of analysis and bearers of meaning but as components both in and shaped by an integrated system of signs and meanings.  To take possibly unjustified poetic license with their work: Our astrocytes are as stars that live as much in the nomos as in the cosmos.

Read the full post here, on the Neuroethics & Law Blog.

The Imparity of Mental Health Care in Prison

Trapped-Mental-Illness-in-Prison-034For many, jails are the only place to access mental health care, but once inside, the conditions of prison life may exacerbate mental illness and reduce the likelihood of rehabilitation. Mentally ill people should have access to care in prison, and advocacy for mental health care should extend beyond the concerns of prison conditions.

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At Airports, a Misplaced Faith in Body Language

Interactive Feature | Can You Spot the Liar? Subjects in a study on body language and lying were asked several general questions — and then told off camera to lie or tell the truth when answering. Can you tell truth from falsehood?

Interactive Feature | Can You Spot the Liar? Subjects in a study on body language and lying were asked several general questions — and then told off camera to lie or tell the truth when answering. Can you tell truth from falsehood?

Like the rest of us, airport security screeners like to think they can read body language. The Transportation Security Administration has spent some $1 billion training thousands of “behavior detection officers” to look for facial expressions and other nonverbal clues that would identify terrorists.

But critics say there’s no evidence that these efforts have stopped a single terrorist or accomplished much beyond inconveniencing tens of thousands of passengers a year. The T.S.A. seems to have fallen for a classic form of self-deception: the belief that you can read liars’ minds by watching their bodies.

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For Jared Remy, leniency was the rule until one lethal night

By Eric Moskowitz | The Boston Globe | March 23, 2014

Jared Remy had glided through his first five criminal cases, but prosecutors thought the sixth one would be different.

Compared to what he had been charged with in the past — beating and choking his ex-girlfriend while she held their baby, cracking a friend over the head with a beer bottle in a jealous fit, elbowing and cursing out a police officer — the case that landed in Lowell District Court in January 2001 seemed minor: Threatening to commit a crime.

But for the first time, prosecutors had a victim willing to testify against Remy, son of one of the most beloved figures in New England.

He was 22 and could not keep a job or stay out of trouble. His parents had hired him the same high-priced lawyer who had prevailed over the district court prosecutors in Jared’s prior cases. So far that lawyer was five for five, sparing Remy jail time, a guilty finding, or anything more than temporary probation.

But prosecutor Joshua E. Friedman did not see Jerry Remy’s son as a young man with a record clean of convictions, charged now with a minor offense. He saw him as steroidal and entitled, violent and unrepentant. Tiffany Guyette, his alleged victim, saw him that way, too. She said Remy had been abusing her since she got pregnant by him at 15, four years earlier.

Since then, Guyette said, he had tried to push her from a moving car while she was pregnant, waited for her in the dark with a baseball bat, and repeatedly paged her with the number 187, street slang for murder.

Read the full article here.

Neuroscience in the Courtroom – Dispatch from APLS 2014

neurolaw_web

The American Psychology-Law Society (APLS; Division 41 of the American PsychologicalAssociation) met for its annual conference from March 6-8, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The conference unites North American forensic psychologists, graduate students, legal scholars, and academics in celebrating empirical advances in the field of psychology and law over the last year. This year was no different, especially in city ablaze in joyous celebration of Mardi Gras two days prior. Of particular interest this year were a number of presentations exploring neuroscientific research and implications for psychology and law, including a plenary session, CLBB-led panel, and paper presentation on juror decision-making.

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