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

The Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Judgment and Decision Making

Joshua D. Greene | in “The Moral Brain: A Multidisciplinary Perspective” | March 2015

Cognitive neuroscience aims to understand the mind in physical terms. This endeavor assumes that the mind can be understood in physical terms, and, insofar as it is successful, validates that assumption. Against this philosophical backdrop, the cognitive neuroscience of moral judgment takes on special significance. Moral judgment is, for many, the quintessential operation of the mind beyond the body, the earthly signature of the soul (Greene, 2011). (In many religions it is, after all, the quality of a soul’s moral judgment that determines where it ends up.) Thus, the prospect of understanding moral judgment in physical terms is especially alluring, or unsettling, depending on your point of view. In this brief review I provide a progress report on our attempts to understand how the human brain makes moral judgments and decisions.

Read the full chapter here.

A Search Warrant For Your Brain?

By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg | Inside Science | 24 February 2015

Brain imaging can already pull bits of information from the minds of willing volunteers in laboratories. What happens when police or lawyers want to use it to pry a key fact from the mind of an unwilling person?

Will your brain be protected under the Fourth Amendment from unreasonable search and seizure?

Or will your brain have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination? Continue reading »

Neuroscience is coming to the law. Can we keep politics out of it?

By Francis Shen and Dena Gromet | The Washington Post | 25 February 2015

Neuroscience is appearing everywhere. And the legal system is taking notice. The past few years have seen the emergence of “neurolaw.” A spread in the NYT Magazine, a best-selling NYT book, a primetime PBS documentary, the first Law and Neuroscience casebook, and a multimillion-dollar investment from the MacArthur Foundation to fund a Research Network on Law and Neuroscience have all fueled interest in how neuroscience might revolutionize the law. Continue reading »

Red States, Blue States, and Brain States: Issue Framing, Partisanship, and the Future of Neurolaw in the United States

By Francis X. Shen and Dena M. Gromet | The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science | March 2015

Abstract:

Advances in neuroscience are beginning to shape law and public policy, giving rise to the field of “neurolaw.” The impact of neuroscientific evidence on how laws are written and interpreted in practice will depend in part on how neurolaw is understood by the public. Drawing on a nationally representative telephone survey experiment, this article presents the first evidence on public approval of neurolaw. We find that the public is generally neutral in its support for neuroscience-based legal reforms. However, how neurolaw is framed affects support based on partisanship: Republicans’ approval of neurolaw decreases when neuroscience is seen as primarily serving to reduce offender culpability, whereas Democrats’ approval is unaffected by how neurolaw is framed. These results suggest that both framing and partisanship may shape the future of neuroscience-based reforms in law and policy.

Read the full paper here.

Factor structure and heritability of endophenotypes in schizophrenia: Findings from the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia

Larry Seidman et al | Schizophrenia Research | February 11, 2015

Abstract:

Background:
Although many endophenotypes for schizophrenia have been studied individually, few studies have examined the extent to which common neurocognitive and neurophysiological measures reflect shared versus unique endophenotypic factors. It may be possible to distill individual endophenotypes into composite measures that reflect dissociable, genetically informative elements.

Methods:
The first phase of the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia (COGS-1) is a multisite family study that collected neurocognitive and neurophysiological data between 2003 and 2008. For these analyses, participants included schizophrenia probands (n = 83), their nonpsychotic siblings (n = 151), and community comparison subjects (n = 209) with complete data on a battery of 12 neurocognitive tests (assessing domains of working memory, declarative memory, vigilance, spatial ability, abstract reasoning, facial emotion processing, and motor speed) and 3 neurophysiological tasks reflecting inhibitory processing (P50 gating, prepulse inhibition and antisaccade tasks). Factor analyses were conducted on the measures for each subject group and across the entire sample. Heritability analyses of factors were performed using SOLAR.

Results:
Analyses yielded 5 distinct factors: 1) Episodic Memory, 2) Working Memory, 3) Perceptual Vigilance, 4) Visual Abstraction, and 5) Inhibitory Processing. Neurophysiological measures had low associations with these factors. The factor structure of endophenotypes was largely comparable across probands, siblings and controls. Significant heritability estimates for the factors ranged from 22% (Episodic Memory) to 39% (Visual Abstraction).

Conclusions:
Neurocognitive measures reflect a meaningful amount of shared variance whereas the neurophysiological measures reflect largely unique contributions as endophenotypes for schizophrenia. Composite endophenotype measures may inform our neurobiological and genetic understanding of schizophrenia.

Read the full paper here.