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

A Psychologist as Warden? Jail and Mental Illness Intersect in Chicago

By Timothy Williams | The New York Times | July 30, 2015

CHICAGO — Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, who runs the sprawling Cook County Jail here, has an indelible childhood memory of police officers pounding on the aluminum walls of the family’s double-wide trailer home in North Carolina, rifling through cupboards and drawers, and arresting her father on charges of selling marijuana.

Dr. Jones Tapia, then 8, had to call her mother home from work.

Over the next several years, other relatives, including two brothers, and a number of friends also spent time in jail. She says she might have ended up there, too.

Instead, she became fascinated by psychology and earned a doctorate. She began working at Cook County Jail in 2006, and this spring became its unlikely warden when she was promoted to executive director — one of the first clinical psychologists to run a jail, underscoring how much the country’s prisons have become holding centers for the mentally ill.  Continue reading »

Pain on the Brain: A Week of Guest Posts on Pain Neuroimaging & Law

By Amanda Pustilnik

This week, the CLBB and the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School are hosting a series of posts on how brain imaging can help the law address issues of physical and emotional pain. Our contributors are world leaders in their fields, who participated on June 30, 2015, in the CLBB/Petrie-Flom conference Visible Solutions: How Brain Imaging Can Help Law Re-envision Pain.  They addressed questions including:

  • Can brain imaging can be a “painometer” to prove pain in legal cases?
  • Can neuroimaging help law do better at understanding what pain is?
  • How do emotion and pain relate to each other?
  • Does brain imaging showing emotional pain prompt us to reconsider law’s mind/body divide?

Professor Irene Tracey, D.Phil., a pioneer in pain neuroimaging and director of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, opened the conference with a keynote explaining what happens when the brain is in pain.

Professor Hank T. Greely, Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and Director of the Program in Neuroscience and Society at Stanford Law School, provided a keynote explaining the many implications of brain imaging for the law.

This conference was the culmination of CLBB’s year of work on pain neuroimaging and law. As the first CLBB-Petrie-Flom Center Senior Fellow on Law & Applied Neuroscience, I focused on pain because it is one of the largest social, economic, and legal problems that can be addressed through new insights into the brain. Pain imaging can be a test case for how neuroscience can contribute positively to law and culture.  (Full conference video proceedings are available here.)  Please read on below!

Pain is also a huge cause of suffering in the world, and it would be honorable if law and science working together could reduce that suffering, even just a little. On a human and economic level, pain is the single largest cause of disability globally and in the US. On the legal level, the US and other legal systems are not effective at evaluating physical and emotional pain, identifying its long-term effects, and sorting genuine claims from false ones.

I also am passionate about pain neuroscience on a personal level: After a routine outpatient procedure that went wrong, nearly a decade ago, my sister developed life-changing pain. The injury healed but the pain endured. This very common type of pain is inexplicable under the old model but readily explicable, and treatable, neurologically. Her years of challenge and recovery opened my eyes to the suffering of millions who endure the double burden of pain and of pain’s invisibility, which often leads to it being dismissed. This project is dedicated to her, and to everyone who has had or will have pain – which is all of us.

I hope you will tune in this week for contributions from:

This post is part of the series on pain, brain imaging, and the law sponsored by the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, the Petrie-Flom Center, and Harvard University’s Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative. Contributors participated in the conference Visible Solutions: Now Neuroimaging Helps Law Reenvision Pain. For inquiries, please contact the organizer Amanda C. Pustilnik (@apustilnik on Twitter).

Autonomy and Mental Health

By Rebecca Brendel | Cosmologics | July 29, 2015

Very early in my training, a middle-aged mother of two school-age children was referred to me for psychiatric care. In the past, she had struggled with periods of depressed mood, but she had never sought treatment. She came to me after, as she described it, her husband had “dropped her off” at the hospital and she was sent to me.

“Why would your husband do such a thing?” I asked her, trying to understand more about what had happened.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Perhaps we can figure it out together?” I suggested, feebly trying to establish rapport.

“The only thing you can do is tell them all that there is nothing wrong with me. I don’t need medication. I don’t need you. I just want to go home to my kids and never come back here again.”  Continue reading »

Creativity and Memory

By Kevin P. Madore, Donna Rose Addis, and Daniel L. Schacter | Psychological Science | July 23, 2015

Abstract:

People produce more episodic details when imagining future events and solving means-end problems after receiving an episodic-specificity induction—brief training in recollecting details of a recent event—than after receiving a control induction not focused on episodic retrieval. Here we show for the first time that an episodic-specificity induction also enhances divergent creative thinking. In Experiment 1, participants exhibited a selective boost on a divergent-thinking task (generating unusual uses of common objects) after a specificity induction compared with a control induction; by contrast, performance following the two inductions was similar on an object association task thought to involve little divergent thinking. In Experiment 2, we replicated the specificity-induction effect on divergent thinking using a different control induction, and also found that participants performed similarly on a convergent-thinking task following the two inductions. These experiments provide novel evidence that episodic memory is involved in divergent creative thinking.

Read the full article here.

Mental Illness Drives Hospitalizations for Detained California Youth

By Arash Anoshiravani, Olga Saynina, Lisa Chamberlain, Benjamin A. Goldstein, Lynne C. Huffman, N. Ewen Wang, and Paul H. Wise | Journal of Adolescent Health | July 21, 2015

Abstract:

Purpose

The purpose of the study was to describe inpatient hospitalization patterns among detained and nondetained youth in a large, total population of hospitalized adolescents in California.

Methods

We examined the unmasked California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development Patient Discharge Dataset from 1997 to 2011. We considered hospitalized youth aged 11–18 years “detained” if admitted to California hospitals from detention, transferred from hospital to detention, or both. We compared discharge diagnoses and length of stay between detained youth and their nondetained counterparts in the general population.

Results

There were 11,367 hospitalizations for detained youth. Hospitalizations differed for detained versus nondetained youth: 63% of all detained youth had a primary diagnosis of mental health disorder (compared with 19.8% of nondetained youth). Detained girls were disproportionately affected, with 74% hospitalized for a primary mental health diagnosis. Detained youth hospitalized for mental health disorder had an increased median length of stay compared with nondetained inpatient youth with mental illness (≥6 days vs. 5 days, respectively). This group difference was heightened in the presence of minority status, public insurance, and concurrent substance abuse. Hospitalized detained youth discharged to chemical dependency treatment facilities had the longest hospital stays (≥43 days).

Conclusions

Detained juvenile offenders are hospitalized for very different reasons than the general adolescent population. Mental illness, often with comorbid substance abuse, requiring long inpatient stays, represents the major cause for hospitalization. These findings underscore the urgent need for effective, well-coordinated mental health services for youth before, during, and after detention.

Read the full article here.