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 »

Trauma at the Border: Can Neuroscience Inform Legal Advocacy?

CLBB Executive Director Dr. Francis X. Shen discusses the role neuroscience can play in the outcomes of migrants seeking asylum at the border.

Francis X. Shen | Petrie-Flom Center | February 8th, 2019

This week the House Judiciary Committee begins its formal inquiries into the Trump Administration’s separation of children from their families as part of a “zero tolerance” immigration policy in 2018.

The policy of family separation was curtailed after public outcry, but the trauma remains. Experts in developmental neuroscience have explained that the trauma of separation has likely produced long-term toxic effects on the brains of these young people.

Moreover, the trauma of separation is only one of many stressors affecting the lives of those seeking refuge and asylum. Children who witness intense violence and flee war-ravaged lands are at greater risk of psychological harm. Children at the U.S. border encounter even more trauma when they enter an immigration system where the Supreme Court has recently held that they can be detained indefinitely.

Legal advocates across the world, including law clinics like the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, are using the law to address these challenging circumstances.

In a timely panel on Monday, March 4, “Trauma at the Border,” we will explore whether and how neuroscience has a role to play in legal advocacy. Can neuroscience help frame the policy debate? In individual cases, can brain evidence be used to improve client outcomes? How can advocates most effectively and sensitively work with clients who are experiencing such significant ongoing trauma?

Addressing these and related questions will be Harvard professor Dr. Charles Nelson, III, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and Director of Research, Developmental Medicine Center, Boston Children’s Hospital; Cindy Zapata, JD, Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, Harvard Law School; and me, Francis X. Shen, PhD, JD, Executive Director, Harvard Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, Massachusetts General Hospital and Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, Petrie-Flom Center in Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, Harvard Law School.

The presentations and discussions will be both scientifically rich and passionately personal. Dr. Nelson’s research on the effects of trauma on the young child’s brain has been featured in conversations about immigration policy, and Attorney Zapata led Harvard Law School students on service trip to Karnes Detention Center, where they worked with children and fathers who had been forcibly separated under the Trump administration policy.

As Executive Director of the MGH Center for Law Brain and Behavior (CLBB), which partners with the Petrie-Flom Center to produce the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, I am excited because this event reflects the CLBB’s mission to bring about systemic legal reform through innovative uses of neuroscience.

We believe that better decisions aligned with science will produce better outcomes, aligned with justice.

Neuroscientists have been vocal about the toxic effects of trauma on the young brain, and legal advocates have been vigorous in their efforts to pursue justice for immigrant families. Integrating neuroscience in a responsible and strategic manner has the potential to improve legal doctrine and practice. But to realize that potential, we need more direct dialogue between neuroscience and law. This panel offers both scientists and lawyers an opportunity to kick-start that dialogue.

I hope our upcoming events marks the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership, and I hope you will join us.

CLBB Directors Give Keynote Speeches at Harvard Medical School Course on Dementia

Both directors of the CLBB, Judith G. Edersheim, JD, MD, and Bruce H. Price, MD, spoke at an annual Harvard Medical School course on dementia this past month. The course, named “Dementia: A Comprehensive Update,” provided four full days of instruction for medical professionals on the changing understanding of dementia in a variety of medical fields. Dr. Edersheim and Dr. Price spoke about the implications of dementia on the legal world, particularly in relation to the concepts of cognitive capacity and undue influence.

WATCH: The Neuroscience of Hate

April 10, 2019 12:00 PM at Harvard Law School

Description

Human beings are biologically predisposed to divide humanity into ingroups and outgroups, and this comes with a great social cost – the capacity for hate. While we may view ourselves and our communities as benevolent and egalitarian, we often view outsiders as inhuman, unworthy, or alien, allowing us to victimize them in conscious and unconscious ways. What are the psychological and neurobiologic roots of this urge to divide ourselves? How do legal structures enact and justify systemic disadvantage for outsiders?

Panelists at this event discussed structures in the brain and in the law that foster hate. 

VIDEO: Rebecca Saxe, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT, and associate member, McGovern Institute

Panelists

  • Jon Hanson, Alan A. Stone Professor of Law; Faculty Director, The Systemic Justice Project; Director, Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School
  • Rebecca Saxe, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT, and associate member, McGovern Institute
  • Moderator: Judith Edersheim, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital; Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; attending Psychiatrist, Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital

Part of 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 for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

WATCH: Trauma at the Border

Description

March 4, 2019 at Harvard Law School

At the center of contemporary political debate are the record numbers of migrant families and children at the U.S.-Mexico border. As these parents and children flee the trauma of violence in their native countries, they are now experiencing the trauma of navigating an increasingly hostile immigration system. What can neuroscience tell us about the effects of these traumatic experiences on the brains of the children and adults? And how might the neuroscience of trauma and brain development affect legal cases? Can advances in mobile neuroimaging provide practitioners with real-time brain evidence of trauma? Does neuroscience have a larger role to play in shaping our nation’s immigration policies? This panel session brought together scientists and lawyers to start a dialogue on neuroscience, trauma, and justice.

Videos

VIDEO: Welcome and Introduction, Francis X. Shen
VIDEO: Charles Nelson III, “The Effects of Early Life Adversity on Development”
VIDEO: Cindy Zapata on the impact of refugees’ trauma on their ability to navigate the legal system
VIDEO: Francis Shen, Concluding Remarks
VIDEO: Audience Q & A

Panelists

  • Charles Nelson, III, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and Director of Research, Developmental Medicine Center, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Cindy Zapata, JD, Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor, Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, Harvard Law School; Leader of 2018 HLS student trip to provide legal services to immigrant families separated in the Karnes Detention Center in Texas
  • Moderator: Francis X. Shen, PhD, JD, Executive Director, Harvard Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, Massachusetts General Hospital and Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, Petrie-Flom Center in Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, Harvard Law School; Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Land-Grant Professor, University of Minnesota Law School

Learn More

Slides

Read More

Part of 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 for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Lie Detection in the Courtroom

Date: April 19, 2018

Location: Bornstein Amphitheater, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, 75 Francis Street, Boston

Time: 6:30p Collation; 7:00-8:30p Program and discussion

Event Co-hosts: CLBB, and the Boston Society of Neurology and Psychiatry

Featured Speaker: Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD

Dr. Francis X. Shen will examine the promises and limitations of the emerging field of neurolaw, and the ways in which neuropsychiatric evidence is being proffered as evidence in criminal and civil contexts.

This event is free and open to the public.