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

CLBB Welcomes New Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience!

We’re excited to announce our 2017–2018 Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, Francis X. Shen!

Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience

The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, now entering its fourth year, is a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. The collaboration includes a Senior Fellow in residence, public symposia, and a Law and Neuroscience Seminar at Harvard Law School taught by the Hon. Nancy Gertner. For more information, see the full press release on the launch of the program.

2017­–2018 Senior Fellow

Francis X. Shen, PhD, JD is the third Senior Fellow in Law and Neuroscience. Shen is currently an Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Presidential Fellow at the University of Minnesota; affiliated faculty at the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Executive Director of Education and Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. Shen received his JD from Harvard Law School, and his PhD in Government and Social Policy from Harvard.

As Senior Fellow, he will pursue original research, mentoring, and public engagement on legal issues related to the aging brain, dementia, traumatic brain injury, and the law. Activities will include expert symposia and public events to promote focused discussion on how the law can more effectively respond to aging brain issues including dementia and traumatic brain injury.

Shen’s goal during his fellowship year will be to foster this interdisciplinary dialogue on dementia and the law. The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience will assess the utility of law’s traditional approaches to capacity and undue influence in light of emerging science on the neurobiology of dementia; consider the future legal utility and ethics of new biomarkers for dementia; and begin developing new theoretical and practical frameworks for more fairly and effectively adjudicating cases in which dementia plays a role.

Please join us in welcoming Francis Shen to the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior!

To learn more about the Project’s 2017–2018 Area of Inquiry, Dementia and the Law, visit the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience website!

Here’s How To Responsibly Talk About Mental Health In The Public Eye

CLBB’s Director of Law & Ethics, Dr. Rebecca Brendel, comments on the consequences of speculating about the mental health of public figures. The “Goldwater rule”, an ethical guideline that encourages mental health professionals to avoid such speculation, has recently been the subject of popular conversation as various mental health experts argue that Donald Trump demonstrates characteristics of narcissistic personality disorder. Dr. Brendel notes:

“Engaging in a psychiatric diagnosis requires the consent of the individual and is based on an in-person evaluation.”

“Rendering an opinion based on observed behavior in the public sphere doesn’t take into account underlying factors that may not be inherently seen,” she continued. “There’s also the potential of discouraging those with mental illness from seeking treatment out of concern that they might be talked about publicly.”

She goes on to argue:

“Mental illnesses are medical illnesses, for which there is sound psychiatric care available. Anyone with mental illness should have confidence in the integrity of their physicians.”

“Someone can have a diagnosis of depression for example, but that doesn’t mean it affects their ability to hold any kind of public responsibility.” 

Read the full article, “Here’s How To Responsibly Talk About Mental Health In The Public Eye”, published by The Huffington Post on July 25, 2017.

Facebook is Re-Sculpting Our Memory

CLBB Scientific Faculty Member Dr. Daniel Schacter, an expert on the neuroscience of memory, is extensively quoted in this Quartz article examining how social media shapes our memories.

By Olivia Goldhill | Quartz | July 16, 2017

For much of history, the only way to chronicle life was to write about it. Now, many of us take selfies on our smartphones to share on Facebook, and create picturesque albums of our daily meals on Instagram. And as the mediums we use to recall and review the past change, so do our very memories. Continue reading »

When Is Speech Violence?

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | July 14, 2017

Imagine that a bully threatens to punch you in the face. A week later, he walks up to you and breaks your nose with his fist. Which is more harmful: the punch or the threat?

The answer might seem obvious: Physical violence is physically damaging; verbal statements aren’t. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

But scientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sickalter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life. Continue reading »

New Neuro Tech Might Be Perfect Evidence for Courtrooms

The Minnesota Daily features a recent study by CLBB Senior Fellow, Dr. Francis Shen, on the influence of memory-testing on jurors’ opinions. The article notes:

As memory-testing technology becomes increasingly common in courthouses and police precincts, one University of Minnesota law professor is testing the gizmos to prevent misuse.

Professor Francis Shen and a team of neuroscience and law students published a report in June showing jurors trust evidence from new memory-testing technology enough to merit its implementation, but not so much that it threatens to over-influence their vote.

When it comes to introducing new neuro-technology to courts and police houses, Shen said, hitting this legal sweet spot is key.

The technology in question, Electroencephalography Memory Recognition (EEG), is used to detect if a subject recognizes a given image or word by tracking activity in memory hotspots of the brain through a skull cap equipped with sensors, said Emily Twedell, a research professional on the project.

The technology works as a more accurate and specialized lie detector, and could help lawyers or police determine if a subject is lying about recognizing unique stolen property, a victim or a crime scene, Shen said.

“The idea is that law can do its job more effectively with the advent of new technology,” Shen said. “But of course, we have to prevent inappropriate uses.”

Shen said neuroscientists and law officials alike are hesitant to implement EEG for fear of misinforming jurors.

Because neither jurors nor law officials are trained in neuroscience, they could be “seduced” by EEG results they don’t understand — that’s where Shen’s team comes in.

To learn about the study’s design and findings, read the full article, “New Neuro Tech Might Be Perfect Evidence for Courtrooms, U Study Shows”, published in the Minnesota Daily on July 12, 2017.