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 Dogs, Lies And Sex Teach Us About Our True Selves

By Tania Lombrozo | NPR | September 19, 2016

New research suggests that even college students who overwhelmingly report that they accept interracial relationships show greater activity in the insula — a brain region associated with disgust — when presented with images of black-white interracial couples than when presented with images of same-race couples.

An article by one of the researchers explains that the set of studies including this result was designed “to examine how people really feel about interracial relationships” (emphasis added). And the article’s headline touts the corresponding conclusion: “Most people are accepting of interracial marriage, right? The brain shows a different story.”

But when it comes to what people really accept, think or feel, are physiological measurements the authority? Why trust brain activation over what a person says? Continue reading »

What Our Emotions Are (And Aren’t)

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | July 31, 2015

OUR senses appear to show us the world the way it truly is, but they are easily deceived. For example, if you listen to a recorded symphony through stereo speakers that are placed exactly right, the orchestra will sound like it’s inside your head. Obviously that isn’t the case.

But suppose you completely trusted your senses. You might find yourself asking well-meaning but preposterous scientific questions like “Where in the brain is the woodwinds section located?” A more reasonable approach is not to ask a where question but a how question: How does the brain construct this experience of hearing the orchestra in your head?

I have just set the stage to dispel a major misconception about emotions. Most people, including many scientists, believe that emotions are distinct, locatable entities inside us — but they’re not. Searching for emotions in this form is as misguided as looking for cerebral clarinets and oboes.  Continue reading »

Brain Genomics Superstruct Project Initial Data Release with Structural, Functional, and Behavioral Measures

By Avram J. Holmes, Marisa O. Hollinshead, Timothy M. O’Keefe, Victor I. Petrov, Gabriele R. Fariello, Lawrence L. Wald, Bruce Fischl, Bruce R. Rosen, Ross W. Mair, Joshua L. RoffmanJordan W. Smoller and Randy L. Buckner | Scientific Data | July 7, 2015

Abstract:

The goal of the Brain Genomics Superstruct Project (GSP) is to enable large-scale exploration of the links between brain function, behavior, and ultimately genetic variation. To provide the broader scientific community data to probe these associations, a repository of structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans linked to genetic information was constructed from a sample of healthy individuals. The initial release, detailed in the present manuscript, encompasses quality screened cross-sectional data from 1,570 participants ages 18 to 35 years who were scanned with MRI and completed demographic and health questionnaires. Personality and cognitive measures were obtained on a subset of participants. Each dataset contains a T1-weighted structural MRI scan and either one (n=1,570) or two (n=1,139) resting state functional MRI scans. Test-retest reliability datasets are included from 69 participants scanned within six months of their initial visit. For the majority of participants self-report behavioral and cognitive measures are included (n=926 and n=892 respectively). Analyses of data quality, structure, function, personality, and cognition are presented to demonstrate the dataset’s utility.

Read the full article here.

Child Maltreatment and Neural Systems Underlying Emotion Regulation

By Katie A. McLaughlin, Matthew Peverill, Andrea L. Gold, Sonia Alves, and Margaret Sheridan | Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry | June 26, 2015

Abstract:

Objective

The strong associations between child maltreatment and psychopathology have generated interest in identifying neurodevelopmental processes that are disrupted following maltreatment. Previous research has largely focused on neural response to negative facial emotion. We determined whether child maltreatment was associated with neural responses during passive viewing of negative and positive emotional stimuli and effortful attempts to regulate emotional responses.

Method

42 adolescents aged 13-19 years, half with exposure to physical and/or sexual abuse, participated. Blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) response was measured during passive viewing of negative and positive emotional stimuli and attempts to modulate emotional responses using cognitive reappraisal.

Results

Maltreated adolescents exhibited heightened response in multiple nodes of the salience network, including amygdala, putamen, and anterior insula, to negative relative to neutral stimuli. During attempts to decrease responses to negative stimuli relative to passive viewing, maltreatment was associated with greater recruitment of superior frontal gyrus, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and frontal pole; adolescents with and without maltreatment down-regulated amygdala response to a similar degree. No associations were observed between maltreatment and neural response to positive emotional stimuli during passive viewing or effortful regulation.

Conclusion

Child maltreatment heightens the salience of negative emotional stimuli. Although maltreated adolescents modulate amygdala responses to negative cues to a similar degree as non-maltreated youths, they utilize regions involved in effortful control to a greater degree to do so, potentially because greater effort is required to modulate heightened amygdala responses. These findings are promising, given the centrality of cognitive restructuring in trauma-focused treatments for children.

Read full paper here.

NSF Launches Understanding the Brain Portal

NSF Understanding the Brain Portal

NSF has launched a new portal dedicated to the agency’s brain research funding opportunities and news. The Understanding the Brain portal arrives on the first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative announcement, and will allow visitors to the site to find brain-related information across the agency in one place.

The portal includes NSF’s specific thematic research areas for the BRAIN Initiative, the latest funding and event announcements, and a list of core programs that support neuroscience research, in addition to public-facing articles and videos about new findings.

Explore the portal here.