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

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.

The Brains Of Psychopaths May Be Wired Differently Than Yours Or Mine

The Huffington Post highlights recently-published research by CLBB’s Dr. Joshua Buckholtz on the brain connectivity of psychopaths. In dispelling various misconceptions about psychopathy, the article notes:

Traditionally, scientists have seen psychopaths as “these cold-blooded, emotionless predators” who “do all of these terrible, terrible things because they don’t feel emotions” like the rest of us do, said Joshua Buckholtz, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University.

The new study, published July 5 in the journal Neuron, suggests the problem may not simply be their emotional capacity. 

About the study’s findings, Dr. Buckholtz notes:

“We know that the brain is networked,” Buckholtz said. “Individual regions don’t work in isolation, and there are lots of really exquisite and nuanced patterns of regulatory control all throughout the brain.”

Researchers mapped the connections between the ventral striatum and other regions of the brain, and found that inmates with higher levels of psychopathy had weaker connections between the ventral striatum and the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is associated with decision-making focused on the future.

Those two results together, Buckholtz said, suggest that psychopaths have “something of a broken regulatory circuit.”

To read more about the study’s design and conclusions, read the full article, “The Brains Of Psychopaths May Be Wired Differently Than Yours Or Mine”, published by The Huffington Post on July 5, 2017.

Does America Have PTSD?

By Judith Edersheim and Kenneth M. McCullough | The Huffington Post | July 27, 2016

America is afraid. There is fear of daily new terror attacks here or abroad. There is growing fear of rampant domestic gun violence. Fear that this person or that is ruining the country. It is fear aimed outward: witness the pervasive discourse of threat at the recent Republican National Convention. It is fear aimed inward: witness our 2.2 million people behind bars, a highly disproportionate number of whom are people of color. If our country were a person, we would view that person as anxious, reactive and reeling from years of trauma: major symptoms of PTSD.

Continue reading »

The Truth About Gun Violence and Mental Illness

By Judith Edersheim | The Huffington Post | August 18, 2015

Written with Olamide Abiose, M.Ed.

The recent shooting tragedies — Lafayette, Chattanooga — and the recent sentencing of Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, have once again thrust mental illness into the center of our national dialogue. A wave of politicians and public figures — from Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and the National Rifle Association — have proposed legislation encouraging greater public access to mental health records, as key to addressing gun violence. It seems many Americans are operating under Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s logic: “Look, every time this happens, it seems like the person has a history of mental illness. We need to make sure that the systems in place actually work.”

While it’s always refreshing to see high-profile calls for a properly functioning mental health system, one has to wonder, where were such calls when we learned that there are ten times as many mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in mental health institutions? Where was the outrage when state budgets slashed funding for psychiatric services, and cut nearly $4.5 billion in services to the mentally ill between 2009 and 2012? Where was the public support for increased access to mental health treatment after The Washington Post recently reported that a person in the throes of a mental health crisis is shot and killed by the police every 36 hours?

Why didn’t we care that the system didn’t work then? Continue reading »

Cruel and All-Too-Usual

By Dana Liebelson | The Huffington Post | July 1, 2015

When the video above was filmed, the girl on the bed was 17 years old. For the purposes of this story, I’ll call her Jamie. There was a time when she liked acting in goofy comedy skits at her Detroit church or crawling into bed with her grandmother to watch TV. She loved to sing—her favorite artist was Chris Brown—but she was too shy to perform in front of other people.

Jamie, whose mother was addicted to crack cocaine, was adopted when she was 3. At high school, she fell in with a wayward crowd and started drinking and smoking weed. Since she didn’t always get along with her adoptive mom, she lived with a close family friend from her church whom she referred to as her sister. One fall day in 2011, they got into a bad fight over their living arrangements. The friend told police that Jamie threw a brick at her, hitting her in the chest, and then banged the brick so hard on the front door that she broke the glass mail chute. Jamie denies the assault—and the police report notes that the brick may not have hit her friend—but she admitted to officers that she was “mad” and “trying to get back in the house.” The Wayne County court gave her two concurrent six-month sentences, for assault and destruction of a building.

In a wealthier Michigan county, kids convicted of minor offenses are almost always sentenced to community service, like helping out at the local science center. Doug Mullkoff, a criminal defense attorney in Ann Arbor, told me that prison in such circumstances is “virtually unheard of.” But Jamie is from Detroit, and in January 2012, she was sent to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, a prison that holds inmates convicted of crimes like first-degree homicide. From this point onward, her world was largely governed by codes and practices and assumptions designed for adult criminals. Continue reading »