News and Commentary Archive

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


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

Separate neural representations for physical pain and social rejection

By Choong-Wan WooLeonie KobanEthan KrossMartin A. LindquistMarie T. BanichLuka RuzicJessica R. Andrews-Hanna & Tor D. Wager | Nature Communications | 17 November 2014

Current theories suggest that physical pain and social rejection share common neural mechanisms, largely by virtue of overlapping functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activity. Here we challenge this notion by identifying distinct multivariate fMRI patterns unique to pain and rejection. Sixty participants experience painful heat and warmth and view photos of ex-partners and friends on separate trials. FMRI pattern classifiers discriminate pain and rejection from their respective control conditions in out-of-sample individuals with 92% and 80% accuracy. The rejection classifier performs at chance on pain, and vice versa. Pain- and rejection-related representations are uncorrelated within regions thought to encode pain affect (for example, dorsal anterior cingulate) and show distinct functional connectivity with other regions in a separate resting-state data set (N=91). These findings demonstrate that separate representations underlie pain and rejection despite common fMRI activity at the gross anatomical level. Rather than co-opting pain circuitry, rejection involves distinct affective representations in humans.

Read the full paper in Nature Communications.

Childhood adversity and neural development: Deprivation and threat as distinct dimensions of early experience

By Katie McLaughlin, Margaret Sheridan & Hilary Lambert | Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews | November 2014

A growing body of research has examined the impact of childhood adversity on neural structure and function. Advances in our understanding of the neurodevelopmental consequences of adverse early environments require the identification of dimensions of environmental experience that influence neural development differently and mechanisms other than the frequently-invoked stress pathways. We propose a novel conceptual framework that differentiates between deprivation (absence of expected environmental inputs and complexity) and threat (presence of experiences that represent a threat to one’s physical integrity) and make predictions grounded in basic neuroscience principles about their distinct effects on neural development. We review animal research on fear learning and sensory deprivation as well as human research on childhood adversity and neural development to support these predictions. We argue that these previously undifferentiated dimensions of experience exert strong and distinct influences on neural development that cannot be fully explained by prevailing models focusing only on stress pathways. Our aim is not to exhaustively review existing evidence on childhood adversity and neural development, but to provide a novel framework to guide future research.

Read the full paper.

Lisa Feldman Barrett on “how your brain decides without you”

CLBB faculty Lisa Feldman Barrett was quoted in the science magazine Nautilus’ issue on Illusions. In light of the classic duck-rabbit illusion, Barrett posited that the brain is an “inference generating organ” which, in real life, fills in the details of ambiguous sensory input to generate understandings about the world. From the article:

When I put the question of whether we were living in a kind of metaphorical duck-rabbit world to Lisa Feldman Barrett, who heads the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory at Northeastern University, her answer was quick: “I don’t even think it’s necessarily metaphorical.” The structure of the brain, she notes, is such that there are many more intrinsic connections between neurons than there are connections that bring sensory information from the world. From that incomplete picture, she says, the brain is “filling in the details, making sense out of ambiguous sensory input.” The brain, she says, is an “inference generating organ.” She describes an increasingly well-supported working hypothesis called predictive coding, according to which perceptions are driven by your own brain and corrected by input from the world. There would otherwise simple be too much sensory input to take in. “It’s not efficient,” she says. “The brain has to find other ways to work.” So it constantly predicts. When “the sensory information that comes in does not match your prediction,” she says, “you either change your prediction—or you change the sensory information that you receive.”

Read the full piece from Nautilus, “How your brain decides without you,” by Tom Vanderbilt, published November 6, 2014.

CLBB leads in special issue on “Neuropsychiatry”

CLBB faculty and staff are significant contributors to an in-press special issue of Current Opinion in Neurobiology on Neuropsychiatry. CLBB faculty and psychiatric genetics pioneer Steven Hyman, along with Raquel Gur, is co-editor of this special issue. The also issue includes a paper co-authored by Justin Baker, CLBB associate director, on the use of fMRI in understanding the neurodevelopment of psychosis.

View the issue in-press, and stay tuned for its publication in February 2015.

The Brain in Pain: A Tipping Point?

At the 2014 Keystone Symposium on the Brain, a talk by CLBB Faculty David Borsook, MD, PhD, member of the CLBB Pain Working Group addressed the neurobiology of chronic pain. View the original posting and more coverage of the event at Pain Research Forum

Meeting co-organizer David Borsook, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, US, led off a session on the question of what happens to the brain in chronic pain.

The brain is a state, and that state changes with pain, Borsook said. “Like epoxy—it is gooey when you first mix it, but then it solidifies. Likewise, pain transforms the brain, and we need to understand this transition better—from the premix to the solid state.” Continue reading »