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

Protecting our Parents: Can Science Help?

High-profile schemes to defraud the elderly of their lifetime savings have headlined top newspapers and tabloids alike. There was Brooke Astor, whose son and attorney were convicted of criminal fraud, Anna Nicole Smith and the fight over J. Edgar Marshall’s inheritance, and Huguette Clark, a multi-billionaire who lived for years in a hospital and whose death prompted a criminal investigation into her donations and inheritance. Unfortunately, these notorious cases are merely the tip of a vast and growing iceberg of financial fraud against the elderly. In 2011, Metlife Mature Market Institute estimated an annual loss of $2.9 billion in fraud against elders. Recent surveys indicate that more than 7.3 million Americans over 65 have been victims of financial fraud. As crime rates — and vulnerable populations — increase, the scientific and legal communities must pool our ever-increasing knowledge and resources to protect elderly family members.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post, published February 21, 2014. By Bruce H. Price, MD and Ekaterina Pivovarova, PhD. Written with Judith G. Edersheim, JD, MD.

For further resources on elder fraud and decision making, see the reference materials from our December 2013 event Capacity, Decision-Making and the Elderly: Brain Science Meets the Law, and follow-up article in the Boston Globe “Scammers take aim at aging population,” by event moderator and Globe reporter Kay Lazar.

 

‘Your Honor, My Genes Made Me Do It’

There have been many theories to explain violent behavior. The latest involves a defective ‘warrior gene.’

Recent high-profile cases of mass shootings have renewed a vigorous debate about the causes of violent behavior. Predicting violence, whether by sentencing judges, parole boards or mental health professionals, has been a perplexing issue as we try to unravel the personal and social forces behind criminal behavior. Continue reading »

Friendly Fraud

Recently, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley took the unusual step of warning the Massachusetts elderly about a widespread telephone scam. In these so called “grandparent scams,” someone who claims to be a relative calls to say that a grandchild or family member is in trouble and instructs the target to wire money in order to help. To back this claim, callers offer demographic information easily obtained on the internet, or information inadvertently provided by the victim while on the telephone. Continue reading »

The Functional Neuroanatomy of Decision-Making

Decision-making is a complex executive function that draws on past experience, present goals, and anticipation of outcome, and which is influenced by prevailing and predicted emotional tone and cultural context. Functional imaging investigations and focal lesion studies identify the orbitofrontal, anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices as critical to decision-making. The authors review the connections of these prefrontal regions with the neocortex, limbic system, basal ganglia, and cerebellum, highlight current ideas regarding the cognitive processes of decision-making that these networks subserve, and present a novel integrated neuroanatomical model for decision-making. Finally, clinical relevance of this circuitry is illustrated through a discussion of frontotemporal dementia, traumatic brain injury, and sociopathy.

Source: The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 2012; 24:266–277. Authors: Michael H. Rosenbloom, M.D.; Jeremy D. Schmahmann, M.D.; Bruce H. Price, M.D. [Read the article]

Is a picture worth a thousand words? Neuroimaging in the courtroom.

Neuroimaging has advanced our understanding of how the living brain operates, providing structural and functional images of both healthy and diseased brains. This technology pervades today’s society, particularly affecting the legal arena. Some judges argue that scientific evidence, which offers insight into the offender’s mental state, is crucial because it is the only
means of determining whether an offender’s punishment is proportional to his crime.1 Other judges argue that “objective” evidence does not “wholly determine the controversy,” and focus instead on their duty as gatekeepers to independently evaluate scientific evidence. If courts use brain images to make their culpability determinations more objective and sound, these images must meet pertinent legal standards and shed light on medical conditions. For neuroimaging to meet these legal and medical standards with scientific integrity, scientists must convincingly correlate the dynamic images in a person’s brain with the way the person is thinking or acting at that moment.

Source: American Journal of Law and Medicine, 2007. [Read full article]