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

CLBB Welcomes New Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience!

We’re excited to announce our 2017–2018 Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, Francis X. Shen!

Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience

The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, now entering its fourth year, is a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. The collaboration includes a Senior Fellow in residence, public symposia, and a Law and Neuroscience Seminar at Harvard Law School taught by the Hon. Nancy Gertner. For more information, see the full press release on the launch of the program.

2017­–2018 Senior Fellow

Francis X. Shen, PhD, JD is the third Senior Fellow in Law and Neuroscience. Shen is currently an Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Presidential Fellow at the University of Minnesota; affiliated faculty at the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Executive Director of Education and Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. Shen received his JD from Harvard Law School, and his PhD in Government and Social Policy from Harvard.

As Senior Fellow, he will pursue original research, mentoring, and public engagement on legal issues related to the aging brain, dementia, traumatic brain injury, and the law. Activities will include expert symposia and public events to promote focused discussion on how the law can more effectively respond to aging brain issues including dementia and traumatic brain injury.

Shen’s goal during his fellowship year will be to foster this interdisciplinary dialogue on dementia and the law. The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience will assess the utility of law’s traditional approaches to capacity and undue influence in light of emerging science on the neurobiology of dementia; consider the future legal utility and ethics of new biomarkers for dementia; and begin developing new theoretical and practical frameworks for more fairly and effectively adjudicating cases in which dementia plays a role.

Please join us in welcoming Francis Shen to the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior!

To learn more about the Project’s 2017–2018 Area of Inquiry, Dementia and the Law, visit the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience website!

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 »

What Comey’s Testimony Means

CLBB Managing Director Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.) is interviewed after former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

By Christina Pazzanese | Harvard Gazette | June 8, 2017

Former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday that he believed President Trump was telling him he should drop the FBI’s criminal investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during several private conversations between the two men. Comey testified that the president said he “hoped” Comey would “let this go,” asked him for his personal “loyalty,” and urged him to clear Trump’s name publicly from a broader probe into Russian election hacking.

Comey, who was fired by Trump last month, also stated that he documented the private conversations in contemporaneous, detailed memos — notes of which he said he shared with a Columbia University law professor and friend in an effort to trigger appointment of a special counsel in the Russia case — because Comey was worried the president might “lie” about what the pair had discussed.

In response to Comey’s testimony, Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal attorney, denied that Trump had asked for Comey’s loyalty and said the president “never sought to impede” the FBI’s work or directed or suggested that Comey stop investigating “anyone.” Kasowitz accused Comey of being a “government leaker.”

Nancy Gertner, a retired federal judge in Massachusetts who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, spoke with the Gazette about the legal issues swirling around the matter. Continue reading »

The Law’s Emotion Problem

Part of the ongoing coverage of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett’s new book, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain.

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | March 11, 2017

In the 1992 Supreme Court case Riggins v. Nevada, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy acknowledged — perhaps unwittingly — that our legal system relies on a particular theory of the emotions. The court had ruled that a criminal defendant could not forcibly be medicated to stand trial, and Justice Kennedy concurred, stressing that medication might impair a defendant’s ability to exhibit his feelings. This, he warned, would interfere with the critical task, during the sentencing phase, of trying to “know the heart and mind of the offender,” including “his contrition or its absence.”

But can a judge or jurors infer a defendant’s emotions reliably, as Justice Kennedy implied? Is it possible, as this theory holds, to detect remorse — or any other emotion — just by looking and listening? Continue reading »

How to Become a ‘Superager’

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | December 31, 2016

Think about the people in your life who are 65 or older. Some of them are experiencing the usual mental difficulties of old age, like forgetfulness or a dwindling attention span. Yet others somehow manage to remain mentally sharp. My father-in-law, a retired doctor, is 83 and he still edits books and runs several medical websites.

Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds. My colleagues and I at Massachusetts General Hospital recently studied superagers to understand what made them tick. Continue reading »