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

Dispatch: “Neuro-interventions and the Law” Conference

Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova

Dr. Ekaterina Pivovarova

On September 12-14, 2014, the Atlanta Neuroethics Consortium was held at Georgia State University. The topic, Neuro-Interventions and the Law: Regulating Human Mental Capacity, brought together leading scholars on philosophy, neuroscience, law, cognitive and clinical psychology, psychiatry, and bioethics. The participants included Judge Andre Davis, Nita Farahany, Stephen Morse, Francis Shen, Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, Nicole Vincent, and Paul Root Wolpe. The conference panels, talks, and keynotes addressed pressing issues about managing and appropriately utilizing novel neuroscientific technologies as they relate to legal issues. Continue reading »

Neuroscience in the Courtroom – Dispatch from APLS 2014

neurolaw_web

The American Psychology-Law Society (APLS; Division 41 of the American PsychologicalAssociation) met for its annual conference from March 6-8, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The conference unites North American forensic psychologists, graduate students, legal scholars, and academics in celebrating empirical advances in the field of psychology and law over the last year. This year was no different, especially in city ablaze in joyous celebration of Mardi Gras two days prior. Of particular interest this year were a number of presentations exploring neuroscientific research and implications for psychology and law, including a plenary session, CLBB-led panel, and paper presentation on juror decision-making.

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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.

 

Neuroscience Experts on the Stand

The use of neuroscience in the courtroom has a long and controversial history (Baskin, Edersheim, & Price, 2007). Some observers will recall introduction of computerized tomography (CT) scans to support a diagnosis of Schizophrenia at the John Hinckley Jr. trial for his attempted assassination of President Reagan (United States v. Hinckley, 1982). In subsequent years, much has changed in neuroscience and the law. Recent advances in technology and methods for collecting and analyzing imaging data, coupled with decreasing costs and greater availability of training, has resulted in an explosion of neuroscientific research (Rosen & Savoy, 2012). The ability to track fluctuating brain activity (i.e., functional data), as opposed to examining structural or anatomical images, has allowed for research in a wide-array of applied fields.

It is not surprising that techniques that could presumably measure thought patterns, identify lying, detect psychopathology, and assess for violence and impulsivity, incite interest in the legal community (Jones, Wagner, Faigman, & Raichle, 2013). The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience has tracked peer-reviewed publications in the field of neurolaw (application of neurosciences to legal questions). Between 2003 and 2013, the total number of articles skyrocketed from less than 100 to more than 1,100 (Jones et al., 2013). A debate has ensued about the appropriate use of neuroscience research in the courtroom. Many researchers urge strong caution in applying this nascent field to complicated psycho-legal questions (Appelbaum, 2009; Rushing & Langleben, 2011). Continue reading »

Scientific Research – and Caution – Are Needed in the Courts: Dispatch from APLS 2013

adapted from “Persistence of Memory” (Dali, 1931)


This year’s Annual Conference of the American Psychology Law Society (Division 41 of the American Psychological Association) was held in Portland, Oregon, a fortuitously appropriate location for the ongoing debate about how to diminish problems associated with eyewitness testimony.

Recently, the Oregon Supreme Court issued an important decision, in State of Oregon v. Lawson (2012), about procedures for managing potentially unreliable eyewitness testimony; the decision was Oregon’s answer to another groundbreaking case, State of New Jersey v. Henderson (2011).

In the Henderson case, which CLBB faculty member Dr. Daniel Schacter, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and a leading researcher on memory, discussed at CLBB’s recent event “Memory in the Courtroom: Fixed, Fallible, or Fleeting?”, the court reviewed extensive scientific research and heard expert testimony from eyewitness researchers about empirically identified problems in memory encoding, memory recall, and factors that can and cannot be controlled by investigators to minimize bias and error (e.g., length of time between the crime and witness interview, visibility at the scene of the crime).

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