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 »

CLBB Provides Neuroscience Expertise for Supreme Court Amicus Brief

JULY 2, 2020 – In six days, Billy Joe Wardlow is scheduled to be executed for a crime he committed at age 18. Wardlow’s defense team is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution. CLBB’s neuroscience faculty provided the most up to date adolescent and emerging adult neuroscience data to supplement an amicus brief in this case, and CLBB was honored to be a signatory to the amicus brief as a whole. See below for details of this compelling case, and a description of the relevant neuroscience.


Should Billy Joe Wardlow be Executed for a Crime Committed When He Was Eighteen? Lincoln Caplan | The New Yorker | June 30, 2020

Background: Billy Joe Wardlow “was 18 years, 6 months, and 19 days old on June 14, 1993, the morning he and his girlfriend, Tonya Fulfer, set out to steal Carl Cole’s Chevy Silverado. In their minds the theft would be the first step toward a new life, one far from the parents who had hurt them and the poverty they’d known in rural Northeast Texas. The idea was to drive the pickup to Montana, change their identities, and begin life anew. The plan’s magical thinking revealed itself as Wardlow stood on Cole’s front porch at dawn. Wardlow asked to borrow a phone. Cole handed one through the door. As Wardlow pretended to make a call, Cole tried to shut the door. Wardlow brought out the .45 he’d stolen from his mother hours before. To Wardlow’s surprise, the 82-year-old Cole charged him, grabbed his arm, and began to push the much-larger Wardlow backwards off the porch. As Cole’s fingers grabbed for control of the gun Wardlow shot. Cole fell dead. Wardlow and Fulfer were arrested two days later, having made it as far as South Dakota.” (source: Austin Chronicle)   

Highlight from The New Yorker essay: “With Wardlow’s execution scheduled for July 8th, the Supreme Court must rule before then on his request for a stay, perhaps this week. He wrote … in May: “I want to cause no more harm. I want to erase the pain I’ve inflicted on others. I want to be someone those I respect would be proud of. I want to be useful to those I love. I want to be someone others look up to and respect . . .I want to wipe away the taint of my past.'”


Amicus Brief to the U.S. Supreme Court
An amicus brief was submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of professional organizations, practitioners, and academics in the fields of neuroscience, neuropsychology, and other related fields. Our neuroscience faculty at CLBB provided the most up-to-date adolescent and emerging adult neuroscience data to supplement the amicus brief.   Neuroscience in Action: “In light of what science has now shown about the developing brain, there is a broad consensus in the neuropsychological community that it is impossible to determine whether an 18-year-old-even one that has committed an act of deadly violence-is likely to commit acts of violence as a mature adult.     …in early adolescence, specific brain regions, notably the ventral striatum within the basal ganglia, mature in ways that promote reward- and sensation seeking, leading to riskier behavior. Recent, seminal neuroimaging studies show that a heightened sensitivity to rewards dominates adolescent decision-making. . . . 
Research also shows that development of the amygdala between early adolescence and adulthood elevates the brain’s sensitivity to emotional triggers. In fMRI studies in which subjects were shown images of human faces in expressions of fear, researchers found that adolescents, relative to adults, exhibited a general pattern of “heightened amygdala activity and slower behavioral responses to fearful faces.” That finding suggests “increasing emotion regulation capacity from adolescence to adulthood” and “continued functional change from young childhood through early adulthood.” . . .  In sum, new neuroimaging studies reveal that the prefrontal cortex-an area of the brain associated with reasoning and executive function- remains developmentally immature and underregulated until the mid20s, while the brain’s reward centers are relatively overexpressed, making emerging adults “more vulnerable to impulsivity,” less capable of emotional reasoning, and more likely to make “errors in self-regulation.”

Summer Learning Series: Justice and the Developing Brain

In summer 2020, CLBB is excited to partner with More Than Words, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services (the Public Defender Agency of Massachusetts) to present a new online learning series led by Dr. Robert Kinscherff, JD, PhD.

You can click here to register and for more information.

Description: Emerging adults are more likely to be arrested, be incarcerated, and to recidivate after release. Join the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, the brain-science experts at the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, and the staff and youth at More Than Words to learn why and discuss how we can reverse this trend.

Why Are Young People So Bad at Coronavirus Social distancing? Blame Their Brains.

CLBB Co-Founder and Co-Director Dr. Judith Edersheim on Why Are Young People So Bad at Coronavirus Social distancing? Blame Their Brains. in USA Today.

When the world began to shelter in place, the news was filled with accounts of groups of teenagers hanging out on the beach and being scolded for their selfishness. Adults told them to grow up and use good judgment and stop being reckless.

But these lectures were utterly ineffective. Even after one spring breaker’s infamous declaration that he wasn’t going to let COVID-19 stop him from partying, and the internet backlash that followed, college students were still going to parties and flouting their recklessness on Twitter with the hashtag #boomerremover

Now that many universities are considering postponing a return to campus until 2021, this problem has returned to the front burner. Why can’t these young adults simply follow the rules like everyone else? As experts in neuroscience and the law, my colleagues and I urge you not to judge these youths too harshly. Their brains are very much to blame.  Keep reading …

 

 

The Forgotten: Juveniles In Detention During COVID-19

CLBB Student Research Assistants Fenella McLuskie, Sina Sadeghzadeh, and Oliver Q. Sussman on The Forgotten: Juveniles In Detention During COVID-19 in The Harvard Crimson. Fenella McLuskie is a first-year student at Harvard Law School. Sina Sadeghzadeh ’21 is a Neuroscience concentrator in Dunster House. Oliver Q. Sussman ’21 is a Neuroscience concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

With more than two million people affected worldwide, the novel coronavirus is exposing social inequities. In a study of COVID-19 and youth, about 90 percent of infected children developed mild to moderate symptoms while only 0.6 percent suffered more severe complications. Yet true to the theme of exacerbated inequality, some populations of youth are at a higher risk than this overall average would suggest.

Compared to other children, children in the juvenile justice system are disproportionately more likely to have compromised immunity, asthma, and other underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk for developing acute coronavirus complications. While there has been much attention paid to different vulnerable populations in our society, juvenile detainees, as usual, are often left out of the conversation. Keep reading …

 

Compassionate Release Now for Prisoners Vulnerable to the Coronavirus

CLBB Advisory Board Member Attorney John Reinstein and CLBB Managing Director Judge (Ret.) Nancy Gertner published this Op-Ed in the Boston Globe on March 23, 2020:

Prisons are Petri dishes for disease in the best of times, but they could become incubators for COVID-19 now. Prisoners sleep, eat, and shower in enclosed quarters with limited ventilation. Social distancing is impossible. Prison populations also have greater rates of serious health problems than the general population. Many are elderly, and have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and cancer, conditions that, if they become infected with COVID-19, make them more likely to require intensive care and especially vulnerable to dying of the disease.

Click to keep reading at The Boston Globe