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

Bridging Cytoarchitectonics and Connectomics in Human Cerebral Cortex

By Martijn P. van den HeuvelLianne H. ScholtensLisa Feldman BarrettClaus C. Hilgetag, and Marcel A. de Reus | The Journal of Neuroscience | October 14, 2015

Abstract:

The rich variation in cytoarchitectonics of the human cortex is well known to play an important role in the differentiation of cortical information processing, with functional multimodal areas noted to display more branched, more spinous, and an overall more complex cytoarchitecture. In parallel, connectome studies have suggested that also the macroscale wiring profile of brain areas may have an important contribution in shaping neural processes; for example, multimodal areas have been noted to display an elaborate macroscale connectivity profile. However, how these two scales of brain connectivity are related—and perhaps interact—remains poorly understood. In this communication, we combined data from the detailed mappings of early twentieth century cytoarchitectonic pioneers Von Economo and Koskinas (1925) on the microscale cellular structure of the human cortex with data on macroscale connectome wiring as derived from high-resolution diffusion imaging data from the Human Connectome Project. In a cross-scale examination, we show evidence of a significant association between cytoarchitectonic features of human cortical organization—in particular the size of layer 3 neurons—and whole-brain corticocortical connectivity. Our findings suggest that aspects of microscale cytoarchitectonics and macroscale connectomics are related.

Read the full article here.

Pinpointing Punishment

CLBB Faculty Member Josh Buckholtz is the lead author of a new, pioneering study revealing insights into how humans make decisions about punishment and process blameworthiness. This study has important implications for the field of law and neuroscience, and was made possible in part by support from the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior. Below is an article describing the findings.  Continue reading »

WATCH — “Should the Science of Adolescent Brain Development Inform Legal Policy?”

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Click to enlarge event poster.

In the past decade, the United States Supreme Court has issued landmark opinions in three cases that involved the criminal culpability of juveniles. In 2005, the Court abolished the juvenile death penalty. In 2010, the Court banned life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide. And in 2012, the Court prohibited states from mandating life without parole for any crimes committed by minors. In all three cases, the Court drew on scientific studies of the adolescent brain in concluding that adolescents, by virtue of their inherent psychological and neurobiological immaturity, are not as responsible for their behavior as adults.

Drawing on findings from a 20-year program of work on adolescent decision making and risk taking, Laurence Steinberg, PhD discussed the Court’s rationale in these cases and the role that scientific evidence about adolescent brain development played in its decisions. He concluded that in discussions of adolescents’ treatment under criminal law, juveniles’ greater amenability to rehabilitation is more important than their diminished culpability. Moreover, he argued that neuroscientific evidence should supplement, rather than supplant, findings from behavioral science.

This event was free and open to the public. Lunch was served.

This public lecture took place at 12:00 pm, on Friday, November 13, in Austin Hall (111) at Harvard Law School.

Continue reading »

Anxiety in Youth at Clinical High Risk for Psychosis

By Laina McAusland, Lisa Buchy, Kristin S. Cadenhead, Tyrone D. Cannon, Barbara A. Cornblatt, Robert Heinssen, Thomas H. McGlashan, Diana O. Perkins, Larry J. Seidman, Ming T. Tsuang, Elaine F. Walker, Scott W. Woods, Carrie E. Bearden, Daniel H. Mathalon, and Jean Addington | Early Intervention in Psychiatry | October 12, 2015

Abstract:

Aim

High rates of anxiety have been observed in youth at clinical high risk (CHR) of developing psychosis. In CHR, anxiety often co-occurs with depression, and there is inconsistent evidence on anxiety in relation to transition to psychosis. The aim of this study was to examine: (i) the prevalence of anxiety disorders in individuals at CHR; (ii) clinical differences between those with and without anxiety; and (iii) the association of baseline anxiety with later transition to psychosis.

Methods

The sample consisted of 765 CHR individuals and 280 healthy controls. CHR status was determined with the Structured Interview of Prodromal Syndromes, mood and anxiety diagnoses with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Disorders, and severity of anxiety with the Social Interaction Anxiety Scale and Self-Rating Anxiety Scale.

Results

In the CHR sample, 51% met criteria for an anxiety disorder. CHR participants had significantly more anxiety diagnoses and severity than healthy controls. Anxiety was correlated to attenuated psychotic and negative symptoms in CHR and those with an anxiety disorder demonstrated more suspiciousness. CHR participants with obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) exhibited more severe symptomatology than those without OCD. An initial presentation of anxiety did not differ between those who did or did not transition to psychosis.

Conclusions

In this large sample of individuals at CHR, anxiety is common and associated with more severe attenuated psychotic symptoms. Treatment not only to prevent or delay transition to psychosis but also to address presenting concerns, such as anxiety, is warranted.

Read the entire paper here.

High-Quality Foster Care Mitigates Callous-Unemotional Traits Following Early Deprivation in Boys: A Randomized Controlled Trial

By Kathryn L. Humphreys, Lucy McGoron, Margaret A. Sheridan, Katie A. McLaughlin, Nathan A. Fox, Charles A. Nelson III, and Charles H. Zeanah | Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry | October 9, 2015

Abstract:

Objective

Callous-unemotional (CU) traits in childhood are a developmental precursor to psychopathy, yet the origins and etiology of CU traits are not known. We examined CU traits among 12-year-old children exposed to severe early deprivation and evaluated whether a high-quality foster care intervention mitigated the development of high levels of CU traits.

Method

Participants were from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, a randomized controlled trial of foster care for children in institutions. Children were recruited from institutions in Bucharest, Romania, along with age- and sex-matched children who were never institutionalized. Children raised in institutional settings were randomized (Mage=22 months) to either a foster-care group (n=68) or a care-as-usual group (n=68). CU traits were assessed at age 12.75 years in available participants from the randomized trial (n=95) and children who were never institutionalized (n=50).

Results

Children who experienced institutional rearing as young children had significantly higher levels of CU traits in early adolescence compared to children who were never institutionalized. Intent-to-treat analysis indicated that, among boys, CU traits were significantly lower among those who received the foster care intervention compared to those randomized to care as usual. Caregiver responsiveness to distress, but not caregiver warmth, mediated the intervention effect on CU traits in boys.

Conclusion

These findings provide the first evidence to date that psychosocial intervention can prevent the onset of CU traits. Although severe early deprivation predicted increased levels of CU traits, high-quality foster care that emphasized responsive caregiving reduced the impact of deprivation on CU trait development for boys.

Read the full article here.