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

Hard Time Gets a Hard Look by Judge Nancy Gertner

The Harvard Gazette covers a new Harvard Law School course led by CLBB’s Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.), which approaches the problem of mass incarceration from interdisciplinary perspectives. The course, also co-taught by Harvard sociologist Bruce Western and Vincent Schiraldi of Harvard Kennedy School, examines the origins of U.S. mass incarceration and helps students generate solutions to the issue. About the course and faculty, Judge Gertner notes:

“Each of us in different ways has been teaching and working on the problem of criminal justice policy. We thought there would be some unique value in bringing together three perspectives: the social science on problems of crime and criminal justice, the perspective of policy research and analysis, and law.

None of us ever believed that we would be in a world in which people are talking about reducing incarceration and letting people out of prison…. the discussion goes from the abstract to the concrete.”

About her experience with the problem of mass incarceration and commitment to resolving it, she comments on her time as a federal judge:

“Eighty percent of sentences that I was obliged to impose in drug cases were unjust, disproportionate, and inequitable, she told the class of working as judge within a strict sentencing framework ushered in by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. After retiring in 2011, she embarked “on a trajectory of wanting to know more,” she said, and pressing for change.

Read the full article, “Hard Time Gets a Hard Look”, by Colleen Walsh, published by the Harvard Gazette on November 29, 2016.

Clues to How ‘Super-Agers’ Retain Young Memories

CLBB Faculty Members Dr. Bradford Dickerson and Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett were featured for their recently-published research on older adults with extraordinary memory capacities. According to the article, “The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, is the first step in a research program aimed at understanding how some older adults retain youthful thinking abilities and the brain circuits that support those abilities.” Dr. Feldman Barrett notes:

“We also examined a group of regions known as the salience network, which is involved in identifying information that is important and needs attention for specific situations, and found preserved thickness among super-agers in several regions, including the anterior insula and orbitofrontal cortex.”

About the significance of the study, Dr. Dickerson comments:

“We desperately need to understand how some older adults are able to function very well into their seventh, eight, and ninth decades. This could provide important clues about how to prevent the decline in memory and thinking that accompanies aging in most of us.”

Read the full article, “Clues to How ‘Super-Agers’ Retain Young Memories”, published in the Harvard Gazette on September 13, 2016.

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 »

The Politics of Jurisprudence

By Christina Pazzanese | Harvard Gazette | February 1, 2015

While U.S. Supreme Court opinions are routinely examined through the political lens of the court’s nine justices, far less is known about the ideological makeup of the thousands of judges on the nation’s federal and state benches.

Unlike with politicians, whose views are easily known through public speeches and position papers, voting records, and party affiliations, studying the politics of judges is much more difficult. State and federal codes of judicial conduct prohibit judges from engaging in most political activities or in public discussions of issues or matters that may appear before the court, as a means of preserving an independent judiciary. That stricture limits the data for broad analysis.

Now, research from Maya Sen, an assistant professor of public policy with theAsh Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and Adam Bonica, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University, sheds some light on the opaque world of politics in the judiciary. Continue reading »

Creating Pain-Sensing Neurons

By BD Colen | Harvard Gazette | November 24, 2014

After more than six years of intensive effort, including repeated failures that at times made the quest seem futile, Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) and at Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (HSCRB) have successfully converted mouse and human skin cells into pain-sensing neurons that respond to a number of stimuli that cause acute and inflammatory distress. Continue reading »