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

Psychopaths: Cold Blood Or Broken Circuit? Inmate Brain Scans Find New Flaws

This interview with Dr. Joshua Buckholtz comes in light of his recently-published research on the brain connectivity of psychopaths within an inmate population.

By Carey Goldberg | WBUR | July 7, 2017

You might think the defining feature of psychopaths is that they’re heartless: willing and sometimes eager to inflict suffering because they lack empathy. But a new Harvard-led study out in the journal Neuron highlights a less obvious aspect of the typical psychopath: poor decision-making.

Psychopaths’ brains seem to be wired so that they are poor at taking into account how bad they’ll feel in the future about what makes them feel good in the present, the study finds. And it suggests that perhaps, at the heart of the psychopath problem, is a brain that’s poor at generating simulations — whether of other people’s feelings or of the future.

Does this let psychopaths off the hook for their anti-social actions? No, but see how you feel after you read my conversation (below, lightly edited) with the study’s senior author, Harvard associate professor Joshua Buckholtz. His research team gathered their data by trundling a mobile MRI scanner to prisons in the Midwest and scanning inmates’ brains.

Continue reading »

How Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ Gets One Thing Deeply Wrong

By Lisa Feldman Barrett and Daniel J. Barrett | WBUR | July 5, 2015

Pixar’s Inside Out is the latest in a long tradition of animated entertainment that teaches us about science.

Chemistry, as I learned from Saturday morning cartoons, is about mixing colorful, bubbling liquids in test tubes until they explode. “Roadrunner and Coyote” cartoons—those fine nature documentaries—taught me physics: if you run off a cliff, you’ll hang in mid-air until the unfortunate moment that you look down. Computer science is apparently about robots that kill you. And now, with Inside Out, we finally have cartoon neuroscience.

Your brain, it turns out, is populated with characters for each emotion, and they press buttons to control your expressions. This is all good fun and a sweet movie. What is surprising, however, is that some scientists have taken this model seriously for a century and actually search for these characters in the brain. Not as animated creatures, mind you, but as blobs of brain circuitry.

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Listen: Dr. Edersheim on WBUR on Brain Science in the Tsarnaev Trial

As jury selection for the long-anticipated trial of the Boston Marathon bomber is underway, there is much speculation about how brain science will be used by the defense team of Dzokhar Tsarnaev, who was 19 years old when he committed the alleged bombing. CLBB Co-Director Judith Edersheim, a forensic psychiatrist and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, discussed the use of brain science in the Tsarnaev trial with WBUR’s Lisa Mullins and adolescence expert and Professor of Psychology at Temple University Laurence Steinberg on Radio Boston on Monday, January 12.

Listen to the discussion below, or on Radio Boston.

Also, read Dr. Edersheim’s commentary on the Tsarnaev trial on WBUR’s CommonHealth.

WATCH: CLBB’s study on brain stimulation and decision-making

By Carey Goldberg | WBUR CommonHealth | August 7, 2014
(part of the Brain Matters series)

The final installment of WBUR’s Brain Matters series featured work from two CLBB faculty, Joshua Buckholtz and Joshua Greene. The tDCS research by Buckholtz discussed below was made possible through a grant from CLBB’s Law and Neuroscience Pilot Fund program, which supports scientists to engage in innovative research at the interface of neuroscience and the law.

Harvard brain scientist Joshua Buckholtz has never forgotten a convict he met back when he was an undergrad conducting psychological tests in prisons. The man had beaten another man nearly to death for stepping on his foot in a dance club.

“I wanted to ask him,” he recalls, “‘In what world was the reward of beating this person so severely, for this — to me — minor infraction, worth having terrible food and barbed wire around you?’ ”

But over the years, Buckholtz became convinced that this bad deed was a result of faulty brain processing, perhaps in a circuit called the frontostriatal dopamine system. In an impulsive person’s brain, he says, attention just gets so narrowly focused on an immediate reward that, in effect, the future disappears. Continue reading »

Brain Scientists Learn To Alter And Even Erase Memories

WBUR CommonHealth | By Rachel Gotbaum | July 24, 2014
(part of the Brain Matters: Reporting from the Frontlines of Neuroscience series)

For 32 years, Leslie Ridlon worked in the military. For most of her career she was in army intelligence. Her job was to watch live videotape of fatal attacks to make sure the missions were successful.

“I had to memorize the details, and I have not got it out of my head, it stays there — the things I saw,” she says. “The beheading — I saw someone who got their head cut off — I can still see that.”

Ridlon is now 49 and retired from the military last year, but she finds she cannot work because she suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder. She has tried conventional therapy for PTSD, in which a patient is exposed repeatedly to a traumatic memory in a safe environment. The goal is to modify the disturbing memory. But she says that type of therapy doesn’t work for her.

“They tried to get me to remember things,” she says. “I had a soldier who died, got blown up by a mortar — he was torn into pieces. So they wanted me to bring that back. I needed to stop that. It was destroying me.” Continue reading »