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

NSF Launches Understanding the Brain Portal

NSF Understanding the Brain Portal

NSF has launched a new portal dedicated to the agency’s brain research funding opportunities and news. The Understanding the Brain portal arrives on the first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative announcement, and will allow visitors to the site to find brain-related information across the agency in one place.

The portal includes NSF’s specific thematic research areas for the BRAIN Initiative, the latest funding and event announcements, and a list of core programs that support neuroscience research, in addition to public-facing articles and videos about new findings.

Explore the portal here.

Reading Pain in a Human Face

By Jan Hoffman | The New York Times | April 28, 2014

In the image above, can you tell which expressions show real pain and which ones are feigned? A study found that human observers had no better than a 55 percent rate of success, even with training, while a computer was accurate about 85 percent of the time. (The answers: A. Fake. B. Real. C. Real.)

How well can computers interact with humans? Certainly computers play a mean game of chess, which requires strategy and logic, and “Jeopardy!,” in which they must process language to understand the clues read by Alex Trebek (and buzz in with the correct question).

But in recent years, scientists have striven for an even more complex goal: programming computers to read human facial expressions.

faking-pain-1398717867245-thumbWide

Quiz: Are These People in Real Pain or Just Faking It? We all know what it’s like to experience pain that makes our faces twist into a grimace. But can you tell if someone else’s face of pain is real or feigned?

The practical applications could be profound. Computers could supplement or even replace lie detectors. They could be installed at border crossings and airport security checks. They could serve as diagnostic aids for doctors.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have written software that not only detected whether a person’s face revealed genuine or faked pain, but did so far more accurately than human observers.

While other scientists have already refined a computer’s ability to identify nuances of smiles and grimaces, this may be the first time a computer has triumphed over humans at reading their own species. Continue reading »

Watch: “Brainwashed? What Neuroscience Can – and Can’t – Tell Us About Ourselves”

Brainwashed? What Neuroscience Can – and Can't – Tell Us About Ourselves While brain science has helped to characterize many aspects of the human experience, there is no consensus about whether it could also be used to help address some of society’s “big” problems.

On Thursday, April 17, 2014, CLBB hosted a conversation at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center of Harvard Medical School, with experts in psychology, philosophy and neuroscience to debate whether neuroscience has anything useful to add to our understanding of thorny ethical and legal questions, such as whether addiction should be considered a “brain disease,” the nature of free will, and how societies should determine personal responsibility.  Video of the event is included below in its entirety and at our Vimeo page.

A recurring theme of the evening’s discussion was how to determine which level of analysis – from molecules and genes to brain structures and systems to individuals and social systems – is the most important to consider for understanding the mind.  While all panelists agreed that any discussion of the brain’s contribution to behavior should be embedded within a multi-level approach, there was considerable disagreement around whether the brain’s contribution should be considered privileged or not. Continue reading »

Friends Can Be Dangerous

Laurence Steinberg | April 25, 2014 | The New York Times | Sunday Review

27GRAY-master495

I’m not sure whether it’s a badge of honor or a mark of shame, but a paper I published a few years ago is now ranked No. 8 on a list of studies that other psychologists would most like to see replicated. Good news: People find the research interesting. Bad news: They don’t believe it.

The paper in question, written with my former student Margo Gardner, appeared in the journal Developmental Psychology in July 2005. It described a study in which we randomly assigned subjects to play a video driving game, either alone or with two same-age friends watching them. The mere presence of peers made teenagers take more risks and crash more often, but no such effect was observed among adults.

I find my colleagues’ skepticism surprising. Most people recall that as teenagers, they did far more reckless things when with their friends than when alone. Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate that many more juvenile crimes than adult crimes are committed in groups. And driving statistics conclusively show that having same-age passengers in the car substantially increases the risk of a teen driver’s crashing but has no similar impact when an adult is behind the wheel. Continue reading »

More laws, more violence?

By Nancy Gertner and Emily Baker-White | The Boston Globe | April 21, 2014

MORE IS NOT a rational criminal justice policy. Whenever there is a horrendous crime, we respond, without fail, with more — more and more imprisonment, higher and higher penalties. Think Len Bias, the Celtics prospect, whose untimely death from drugs unleashed onerous drug penalties we now know did not make us safer and, worse, created an imprisonment rate which we can no longer afford. Now, it is Jennifer Martel, whose tragic death, allegedly at the hands of Jared Remy, has led to bipartisan shrieks for more punishment. More punishment surely makes us feel better; better yet, it plays nicely on the evening news or in gubernatorial campaigns. More imprisonment, however, does not mean less crime, especially with domestic violence.

In response to Martel’s killing, the Massachusetts House of Representatives fast-tracked legislation that includes measures that may well lead to more violence. It creates new offenses for first-time restraining order violations, first-time assaults and batteries on a household member, suffocation, and strangulation. It also increases penalties — including prison sentences — for these and other domestic violence offenses. It labels many of these offenses felonies. If passed by the Senate, it will surely lead to more people going to prison, remaining there longer, and being disabled by a felony conviction when they get out.

Read the full op-ed here.