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

Video: Steven Pinker: “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century”

On Thursday, November 20, 2014, at the Bornstein Amphitheater at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, CLBB and the Boston Society for Neurology and Psychiatry co-sponsored a talk by Steven Pinker, renowned Harvard cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular author, to discuss his most recent book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Video of the event is included below in its entirety and at our Vimeo page. Continue reading »

Watch: “Free Will: What Can Physiology Explain?”

While we may believe that we choose and direct our movements consciously, the physiology of human motor control provides compelling evidence that this sense of conscious decision – free will – is a perception only.

On Thursday, October 2, 2014, at the Bornstein Amphitheater at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, CLBB and the Boston Society for Neurology and Psychiatry co-sponsored an event exploring how an understanding of human motor control can contribute to the question of free will. Video of the event is included below in its entirety and at our Vimeo page. Continue reading »

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 »

The Neurolaw Revolution: A Lecture by Francis X. Shen

Click to enlarge poster.

Rapid advances in the brain sciences offer both promise and peril for the law. In light of these developments, Dr. Francis Shen will explore how neuroscientific analysis of law may revolutionize legal doctrine and practice.

Dr. Shen is the third Senior Fellow in Law and Neuroscience in the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center. Dr. Shen directs the Shen Neurolaw Lab at the University of Minnesota, is co-author of the first Law and Neuroscience casebook, and serves as Executive Director of Education and Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience.

This event will be held from 4:00-5:30 pm on Wednesday, September 13, at Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East A, Harvard Law School (1585 Massachusetts Ave, 02138). It is free and open to the public. This lecture will be followed at 5:30 pm by the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2017 Open House reception.

Continue reading »

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!

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.

Facebook is Re-Sculpting Our Memory

CLBB Scientific Faculty Member Dr. Daniel Schacter, an expert on the neuroscience of memory, is extensively quoted in this Quartz article examining how social media shapes our memories.

By Olivia Goldhill | Quartz | July 16, 2017

For much of history, the only way to chronicle life was to write about it. Now, many of us take selfies on our smartphones to share on Facebook, and create picturesque albums of our daily meals on Instagram. And as the mediums we use to recall and review the past change, so do our very memories. Continue reading »

When Is Speech Violence?

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | July 14, 2017

Imagine that a bully threatens to punch you in the face. A week later, he walks up to you and breaks your nose with his fist. Which is more harmful: the punch or the threat?

The answer might seem obvious: Physical violence is physically damaging; verbal statements aren’t. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

But scientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sickalter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life. Continue reading »