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

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 »

You’re an Adult. Your Brain, Not So Much.

CLBB Faculty Member Leah Somerville and her work on adolescent development are featured in the following article, which highlights the difficulty in determining a distinct line between adolescence and adulthood. Additional coverage about how her work intersects with the CLBB can be found here.

By Carl Zimmer | The New York Times | December 21, 2016

Leah H. Somerville, a Harvard neuroscientist, sometimes finds herself in front of an audience of judges. They come to hear her speak about how the brain develops.

It’s a subject on which many legal questions depend. How old does someone have to be to be sentenced to death? When should someone get to vote? Can an 18-year-old give informed consent?

Scientists like Dr. Somerville have learned a great deal in recent years. But the complex picture that’s emerging lacks the bright lines that policy makers would like. Continue reading »

Five Questions for Judith Edersheim

CLBB Co-Director and Co-Founder Dr. Judith Edersheim is interviewed in-depth to comment on what neuroimaging can and cannot reveal about the “criminal brain”. 

By Chloé Hecketsweiler | Undark Magazine | December 6, 2016

CAN BRAIN SCIENCE predict when someone will commit a crime, or tell whether a defendant knew right from wrong? In recent decades, scientists and criminal justice experts have been trying to answer tantalizing questions like these — with mixed success.

The science of predicting crime using algorithms is still shaky, and while sophisticated tools such as neuroimaging are increasingly being used in courtrooms, they raise a host of tricky questions: What kind of brain defect or brain injury should count when assessing a defendant’s responsibility for a crime? Can brain imaging distinguish truth from falsehood? Can neuroscience predict human behavior? Continue reading »