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

Eyewitness Testimony Is Unreliable: The SJC Tries To Reform Its Use

In August 2014, CLBB partnered with the American Psychological Association to submit an Amicus Brief to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) which outlined the latest neuroscientific understanding of eyewitness memory. The following January, the SJC issued an opinion in Commonwealth v. Gomes that changed eyewitness testimony law. This article discusses the reforms the SJC is making to account for the fallibility of memory.

By Daniel S. Medwed | WGBH | September 25, 2015

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), the state’s highest, enjoys a storied place in the annals of progressive legal thought.  Among its many notable achievements, the SJC laid the groundwork for the national recognition of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court last June through its innovative 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the first major case upholding the right of gay couples to wed.

The SJC may well be on the cusp of another trailblazing decision that could also legal resonate across the nation. It has recently taken up an issue near and dear to the hearts of many critics of American criminal justice policy: the problem of eyewitness misidentification.  Continue reading »

Variation in CACNA1C is Associated with Amygdala Structure and Function in Adolescents

By Jennifer A. Sumner, Margaret A. Sheridan, Stacy S. Drury, Kyle C. Esteves, Kate Walsh, Karestan C. Koenen, and Katie A. McLaughlin | Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology | September 24, 2015

Abstract:

Objective: Genome-wide association studies have identified allelic variation in CACNA1C as a risk factor for multiple psychiatric disorders associated with limbic system dysfunction, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. The CACNA1C gene codes for a subunit of L-type voltage-gated calcium channels, which modulate amygdala function. Although CACNA1C genotype appears to be associated with amygdala morphology and function in adults with and without psychopathology, whether genetic variation influences amygdala structure and function earlier in development has not been examined.

Methods: In this first investigation of the neural correlates of CACNA1C in young individuals, we examined associations between two single nucleotide polymorphisms in CACNA1C (rs1006737 and rs4765914) with amygdala volume and activation during an emotional processing task in 58 adolescents and young adults 13–20 years of age.

Results: Minor (T) allele carriers of rs4765914 exhibited smaller amygdala volume than major (C) allele homozygotes (β=−0.33, p=0.006). Furthermore, minor (A) allele homozygotes of rs1006737 exhibited increased blood–oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal in the amygdala when viewing negative (vs. neutral) stimuli (β=0.29, p=0.040) and decreased BOLD signal in the amygdala when instructed to downregulate their emotional response to negative stimuli (β=−0.38, p=0.009). Follow-up analyses indicated that childhood trauma did not moderate the associations of CACNA1C variation with amygdala structure and function (ps>0.170).

Conclusions: Findings indicate that CACNA1C-related differences in amygdala structure and function are present by adolescence. However, population stratification is a concern, given the racial/ethnic heterogeneity of our sample, and our findings do not have direct clinical implications currently. Nevertheless, these results suggest that developmentally informed research can begin to shed light on the time course by which genetic liability may translate into neural differences associated with vulnerability to psychopathology.

Read the full article here.

Heightened Sensitivity to Emotional Expressions in Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Compared to Social Anxiety Disorder, and Controls

By Eric Bui, Eric Anderson, Elizabeth M. Goetter, Allison A. Campbell, Laura E. Fischer, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Naomi M. Simon | Cognition and Emotion | September 23, 2015

Abstract:

Few studies have examined potential differences between social anxiety disorder (SAD) and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in the sensitivity to detect emotional expressions. The present study aims to compare the detection of emotional expressions in SAD and GAD. Participants with a primary diagnosis of GAD (n = 46), SAD (n = 70), and controls (n = 118) completed a morph movies task. The task presented faces expressing increasing degrees of emotional intensity, slowly changing from a neutral to a full-intensity happy, sad, or angry expressions. Participants used a slide bar to view the movie frames from left to right, and to stop at the first frame where they perceived an emotion. The frame selected thus indicated the intensity of emotion required to identify the facial expression. Participants with GAD detected the onset of facial emotions at lower intensity of emotion than participants with SAD (p = 0.002) and controls (p = 0.039). In a multiple regression analysis controlling for age, race, and depressive symptom severity, lower frame at which the emotion was detected was independently associated and GAD diagnosis (B = –5.73, SE = 1.74, p < 0.01). Our findings suggest that individuals with GAD exhibit enhanced detection of facial emotions compared to those with SAD or controls.

Read the full paper here.

Anne-Marie Slaughter and Andrew Moravcsik on Work-Life Balance

CLBB Board Members Anne-Marie Slaughter and Andrew Moravcsik have recently come out with a pair of articles on work-like balance, published in The New York Times and The Atlantic, respectively. In his article,”Why I Put My Wife’s Career First“, Andrew Moravcsik discusses his and Anne-Marie’s initial approaches to child-rearing and his eventual decision to take the role of lead parent. He writes,

 “Most two-career families sooner or later find that one person falls into the role of lead parent. In our family, I assumed that role. To be sure, Anne-Marie was actively involved with our boys, taking responsibility for specific chunks of their lives, like dealing with teachers and planning college trips. She was—and is—emotionally close to both sons. And, as she described in her article three years ago, she broke off her government service to help our older son through his rocky transition into adolescence.

But none of this is lead parenting. Lead parenting is being on the front lines of everyday life. In my years as lead parent, I have gotten the kids out of the house in the morning; enforced bedtimes at night; monitored computer and TV use; attempted to ensure that homework got done right; encouraged involvement in sports and music; attended the baseball games, piano lessons, plays, and concerts that resulted; and kept tabs on social lives. To this day, I am listed first on emergency forms; I am the parent who drops everything in the event of a crisis.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, in “A Toxic Work World“, criticizes rigid workplace cultures that promote overwork, leave little room for caregiving, and prove hostile to many employees, especially women. She notes,

“For many Americans, life has become all competition all the time. Workers across the socioeconomic spectrum, from hotel housekeepers to surgeons, have stories about toiling 12- to 16-hour days (often without overtime pay) and experiencing anxiety attacks and exhaustion. Public health experts have begun talking about stress as an epidemic.

The people who can compete and succeed in this culture are an ever-narrower slice of American society: largely young people who are healthy, and wealthy enough not to have to care for family members. An individual company can of course favor these individuals, as health insurers once did, and then pass them off to other businesses when they become parents or need to tend to their own parents. But this model of winning at all costs reinforces a distinctive American pathology of not making room for caregiving. The result: We hemorrhage talent and hollow out our society.”

Make sure to read “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First“, published in The Atlantic, and “A Toxic Work World“, published in The New York Times!

From Blame to Punishment: Disrupting Prefrontal Cortex Activity Reveals Norm Enforcement Mechanisms

By Joshua W. Buckholtz, Justin W. Martin, Michael T. Treadway, Katherine Jan, David H. Zald, Owen Jones, and René Marois | Neuron | September 16, 2015

Summary:

The social welfare provided by cooperation depends on the enforcement of social norms. Determining blameworthiness and assigning a deserved punishment are two cognitive cornerstones of norm enforcement. Although prior work has implicated the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in norm-based judgments, the relative contribution of this region to blameworthiness and punishment decisions remains poorly understood. Here, we used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and fMRI to determine the specific role of DLPFC function in norm-enforcement behavior. DLPFC rTMS reduced punishment for wrongful acts without affecting blameworthiness ratings, and fMRI revealed punishment-selective DLPFC recruitment, suggesting that these two facets of norm-based decision making are neurobiologically dissociable. Finally, we show that DLPFC rTMS affects punishment decision making by altering the integration of information about culpability and harm. Together, these findings reveal a selective, causal role for DLPFC in norm enforcement: representational integration of the distinct information streams used to make punishment decisions.

Read the full paper here.