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

Daniel Schacter Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Daniel L. Schacter, Ph.DDaniel Schacter, PhD, Harvard Professor of Psychology and CLBB faculty member, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Members are elected to the Academy each year “in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.” A widely accepted mark of excellence in science, membership is considered one of the highest honors a scientist can receive.

Dr. Schacter is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Psychology at Harvard; Director of Harvard’s Schacter Memory Lab; and an award-winning author whose books include The Seven Sins of Memory and Searching for Memory: The Brain, The Mind, The Past. He is also an active member of the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior faculty. In January he appeared on a panel organized by CLBB, “Memory in the Courtroom: Fixed, Fallible or Fleeting?” to discuss distortion of memory, how the courts are beginning to take into account decades of psychological research, and how neuroscience may play a role in the future.

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Freakonomics radio on false memories: Interview with Steven Dubner

How accurate are our memories? Not as accurate as we’d like to think, especially when it comes to political events.

This week, NPR’s Marketplace looked at the work of Elizabeth Loftus, a University of California, Irvine, memory expert who recently co-authored a Nature Neuroscience commentary on memory and the law with CLBB faculty member Daniel Schacter.  Loftus’ work shows just how easily we can be led to “remember” events that never happened. All you have to do is show someone a doctored photograph. These false memories become all the more intense when political beliefs are factored in — Democrats are more likely to falsely remember events that show Republicans in a bad light, and vice-versa.

This leads Stephen Dubner to wonder: can Washington, D.C.’s partisan gridlock be solved by a few carefully doctored photographs?

Source: NPR’s Marketplace

 

Memory and Law: What Can Cognitive Neuroscience Contribute?

By Daniel L. Schacter and Elizabeth F. Loftus | Nature Neuroscience | February 2013

A recent decision in the United States by the New Jersey Supreme Court has led to improved jury instructions that incorporate psychological research showing that memory does not operate like a video recording. Here we consider how cognitive neuroscience could contribute to addressing memory in the courtroom. We discuss conditions in which neuroimaging can distinguish true and false memories in the laboratory and note reasons to be skeptical about its use in courtroom cases. We also discuss neuroscience research concerning false and imagined memories, misinformation effects and reconsolidation phenomena that may enhance understanding of why memory does not operate like a video recording. …

See commentary at Nature Neuroscience.

Oliver Sacks on Why Memories Are Not to Be Trusted

Neurologist and bestselling author Oliver Sacks takes on the fallibility of memory in a sweeping essay in the Feb. 21, 2013 issue of The New York Review of Books. Moving from his own attempts to recall the past to the creation of false memories to the difference between plagiarism, autoplagiarism, and cryptomnesia—when a forgotten memory reappears as an original thought—Sacks concludes:

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. (The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as “creating,” and remembering as “recreating” or “recategorizing.”) Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.

Sacks cites the work CLBB Faculty Member Daniel L. Schacter, as well as that of Elizabeth F. Loftus,  coauthor with Schacter of a recent Nature Neuroscience commentary, “Memory and Law: What Can Cognitive Neuroscience Contribute?

Read the entire essay at nybooks.com.

 

 

WATCH – “Memory in the Courtroom: Fixed, Fallible or Fleeting?”

On January 31, 2013, CLBB hosted an evening event at Harvard Medical School on the changing science of memory and its implications for the court. Experts in the neuroscience of memory distortion, post-traumatic stress, and the laws of evidence discussed the complicated use of memory in the courtroom. Speakers included Harvard Professor of Psychology and best-selling author of The Seven Sins of Memory, Daniel Schacter, PhD; Harvard Medical School Professor and PTSD expert, Roger Pitman, MD; and Harvard Law School Professor and Retired US District Judge, Judge Nancy Gertner. Award winning investigative journalist Dick Lehr introduced the event with a story he had covered for the Globe about a wrongful conviction due to eye-witness misidentification.  CLBB co-director Judith Edersheim moderated an interdisciplinary panel discussion following remarks from each speaker, followed by audience Q&A.

Watch the individual presentations and panel discussion below, or visit our “Memory in the Courtroom” channel at Vimeo.com.

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