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

Dispatch: “Neuro-interventions and the Law” Conference

Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova

Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova

On September 12-14, 2014, the Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium was held at Georgia State University. The topic, Neuro-Interventions and the Law: Regulating Human Mental Capacity, brought together leading scholars on philosophy, neuroscience, law, cognitive and clinical psychology, psychiatry, and bioethics. The participants included Judge Andre Davis, Nita Farahany, Stephen Morse, Francis Shen, Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, Nicole Vincent, and Paul Root Wolpe. The conference panels, talks, and keynotes addressed pressing issues about managing and appropriately utilizing novel neuroscientific technologies as they relate to legal issues. Continue reading »

The Other Polygraph

By Virginia Hughes | National Geographic Phenomena: Only Human | September 30, 2014

You’ve no doubt heard about the polygraph and its use as a lie detector. The homely box records physiological changes — such as heart rate and electrical skin conductance — that are indirect signatures of emotion. Because these biomarkers tend to change when people tell lies, criminal investigators have long used the polygraph as a crude tool for detecting deception.

But there’s a huge problem with the polygraph: it’s all-too-frequently wrong. Truth-tellers may show a strong physiological response to being questioned if they’re nervous or fearful, which they often are — particularly if the target of a hostile interrogation.

“You end up with a lot of false positives,” says John Meixner, a law clerk to Chief Judge Gerald Rosen of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The traditional polygraph suffers not only from false positives, but missed positives: With a bit of training, liars can pass the test by intentionally turning down their emotions. Continue reading »

“Violence risk & threat assessment: An historic & dynamic perspective” – Nov. 6-8, 2014

The 17th annual Conference on the Contemporary Applications of Psychological Assessment will be held Thursday, November 6 – Saturday, November 8, 2014 at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.

The pre-conference institute, “Current controversies in assessment and treatment of ADHD,” on November 6, will feature CLBB faculty Larry Seidman, PhD.

The Conference, titled, “Violence risk and threat assessment: An historic and dynamic perspective,” will be held November 7 & 8. Robert Kinscherff, PhD, Esq., CLBB faculty, is a course director.

The conference is presented by The Department of Psychology, Massachusetts Mental Health Center Academic Division of Public Psychiatry of the Department of Psychiatry of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; The University of Massachusetts Boston, Department of Psychology; The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology; and The Society for Personality Assessment.

For details and to register, see the conference website and brochure.

Belief in Free Will Not Threatened by Neuroscience

By Christian Jarrett | British Psychological Society Research blog | September 29, 2014

A key finding from neuroscience research over the last few decades is that non-conscious preparatory brain activity appears to precede the subjective feeling of making a decision. Some neuroscientists, like Sam Harris, have argued that this shows our sense of free will is an illusion, and that lay people would realize this too if they were given a vivid demonstration of the implications of the science (see below). Books have even started to appear with titles like My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility by Eliezer J. Sternberg.

However, in a new paper, Eddy Nahmias, Jason Shepard and Shane Reuter counter such claims. They believe that Harris and others (who they dub “willusionists”) make several unfounded assumptions about the foundations of most people’s sense of free will. Using a series of vivid hypothetical scenarios based on Harris’ own writings, Nahmias and his colleagues tested whether people’s belief in free will really is challenged by “neuroprediction” – the idea of neuroscientists using brain activity to predict a person’s choices, and by the related notion that mental activity is no more than brain activity. Continue reading »

Promises, promises for neuroscience and law

By Joshua Buckholtz and David Faigman | Current Biology | September 2014

Abstract:

Stunning technical advances in the ability to image the human brain have provoked excited speculation about the application of neuroscience to other fields. The ‘promise’ of neuroscience for law has been touted with particular enthusiasm. Here, we contend that this promise elides fundamental conceptual issues that limit the usefulness of neuroscience for law. Recommendations for overcoming these challenges are offered.

Read the full paper here.