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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

WATCH — “Should the Science of Adolescent Brain Development Inform Legal Policy?”

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Click to enlarge event poster.

In the past decade, the United States Supreme Court has issued landmark opinions in three cases that involved the criminal culpability of juveniles. In 2005, the Court abolished the juvenile death penalty. In 2010, the Court banned life without parole for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicide. And in 2012, the Court prohibited states from mandating life without parole for any crimes committed by minors. In all three cases, the Court drew on scientific studies of the adolescent brain in concluding that adolescents, by virtue of their inherent psychological and neurobiological immaturity, are not as responsible for their behavior as adults.

Drawing on findings from a 20-year program of work on adolescent decision making and risk taking, Laurence Steinberg, PhD discussed the Court’s rationale in these cases and the role that scientific evidence about adolescent brain development played in its decisions. He concluded that in discussions of adolescents’ treatment under criminal law, juveniles’ greater amenability to rehabilitation is more important than their diminished culpability. Moreover, he argued that neuroscientific evidence should supplement, rather than supplant, findings from behavioral science.

This event was free and open to the public. Lunch was served.

This public lecture took place at 12:00 pm, on Friday, November 13, in Austin Hall (111) at Harvard Law School.


Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., is the Distinguished University Professor and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University. He received his A.B. in Psychology from Vassar College and his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University. Dr. Steinberg is a former President of the Division of Developmental Psychology of the American Psychological Association and of the Society for Research on Adolescence, former Director of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, and a member of the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. Assistant Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; Faculty, Center for Law, Brain and Behavior

Part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Watch video of the entire event below!