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

WATCH: Our Aging Brains: Decision-making, Fraud, and Undue Influence

With over 70 million Baby Boomers retiring, elder financial exploitation has been labeled the “Crime of the 21st Century.” In this half-day event, we will explore the neuroscience, psychology, and legal doctrine of financial decision-making in older adults. How does the aging brain make financial decisions, and when is it uniquely susceptible? How can courts best use science to improve their adjudication of disputes over “competency”, “capacity”, and “undue influence”? Is novel neuroimaging evidence of dementia ready for courtroom use? This conference will bring together experts in medicine, science, and law to explore these important questions and chart a path forward for dementia and the law.

 

Agenda

8:00 – 8:30am, Registration

A continental breakfast will be available.

8:30 – 8:45am, Introduction

  • Judith G. Edersheim, JD, MD, 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
  • Carmel Shachar, JD, MPH, Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics and Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School
  • Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, the Petrie-Flom Center in Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Land-Grant Professor, University of Minnesota Law School

8:45 – 9:30am, What is Dementia? Definitions, Diagnosis, and Treatment

  • Bruce H. Price, MD, Chief, Department of Neurology at McLean Hospital; Associate in Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital; Associate Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School; Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, Massachusetts General Hospital

9:30 – 9:45am, In Pursuit of Elder Justice

9:45 – 10:00am, Break

10:00 – 11:15am, Dementia and the Law: Challenges and Opportunities

  • Jennifer A. Moye, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Associate Director of Education and Evaluation, New England Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center, Boston and Bedford VA
  • Ray D. Madoff, JD, Professor, Boston College Law School
  • Peter A. Lichtenberg, PhD, ABPP, Professor, Department of Psychology and Director, Institute of Gerontology, Wayne State University
  • Daniel Marson, JD, PhD, Professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

11:15am – 12:10pm, Future Directions: The Aging Brain and Financial Decision-Making

  • Gregory Samanez-Larkin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University
  • Duke Han, PhD, Director of Neuropsychology, Department of Family Medicine and Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Neurology, Psychology, and Gerontology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California
  • Judith G. Edersheim, JD, MD, 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

12:15 – 12:30pm, A Path Forward

  • Francis X. Shen, JD, PhD, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, the Petrie-Flom Center in Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Land-Grant Professor, University of Minnesota Law School

The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience is a collaboration between the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Watch a video of this event:

Psychopaths: Cold Blood Or Broken Circuit? Inmate Brain Scans Find New Flaws

This interview with Dr. Joshua Buckholtz comes in light of his recently-published research on the brain connectivity of psychopaths within an inmate population.

By Carey Goldberg | WBUR | July 7, 2017

You might think the defining feature of psychopaths is that they’re heartless: willing and sometimes eager to inflict suffering because they lack empathy. But a new Harvard-led study out in the journal Neuron highlights a less obvious aspect of the typical psychopath: poor decision-making.

Psychopaths’ brains seem to be wired so that they are poor at taking into account how bad they’ll feel in the future about what makes them feel good in the present, the study finds. And it suggests that perhaps, at the heart of the psychopath problem, is a brain that’s poor at generating simulations — whether of other people’s feelings or of the future.

Does this let psychopaths off the hook for their anti-social actions? No, but see how you feel after you read my conversation (below, lightly edited) with the study’s senior author, Harvard associate professor Joshua Buckholtz. His research team gathered their data by trundling a mobile MRI scanner to prisons in the Midwest and scanning inmates’ brains.

Continue reading »

A Revised Portrait of Psychopaths

The Harvard Gazette covers a recent study by CLBB Faculty Member Dr. Joshua Buckholtz that challenges the traditional view of psychopaths. The study found that psychopaths struggle to make accurate predictions about the consequences of their actions, challenging the previously-held notion that they simply are unable to feel empathy, remorse, or regret. About the significance of the findings, Dr. Buckholtz notes:

“There are two components to regret. There is retrospective regret, which is how we usually think about regret — the emotional experience after you learn you could have received a better outcome if you had made a different choice. But we also use signals from our environment to make predictions about which actions will or won’t result in regret. What differentiated psychopaths from other people was their inability to use those prospective regret signals, to use information about the choices they were given to anticipate how much regret they were going to experience, and adjust their decision-making accordingly.

“It’s almost like a blindness to future regret. When something happens, they feel regret, but what they can’t do is look forward and use information that would tell them they’re going to feel regret to guide their decision-making.”

On the relationship between the study’s novel findings about psychopathy and criminal behavior, he observes:

“Contrary to what you would expect based on these basic emotional-deficit models, their emotional responses to regret didn’t predict incarceration. We know psychopathy is one of the biggest predictors of criminal behavior, but what we found was that behavioral regret sensitivity moderated that, raising the suggestion that intact behavioral regret sensitivity could be a protective factor against incarceration in psychopathic individuals.

Finally, when commenting on the importance of the research, he notes:

“We actually know very little about how psychopaths make choices. There have been all sorts of research into their emotions and emotional experience, but we know next to nothing about how they integrate information that we extract from the world as a matter of course and use it to make decisions in daily lives. Getting better insight into why psychopaths make such terrible choices, I think, is going to be very important for the next generation of psychopathy research.”

Read the full article, “A Revised Portrait of Psychopaths”, published in the Harvard Gazette on February 2, 2017.

Pinpointing Punishment

CLBB Faculty Member Josh Buckholtz is the lead author of a new, pioneering study revealing insights into how humans make decisions about punishment and process blameworthiness. This study has important implications for the field of law and neuroscience, and was made possible in part by support from the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior. Below is an article describing the findings.  Continue reading »

The Neuroscience of Adolescent Decision-Making

By Catherine A. Hartley and Leah H. Somerville | Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences | October 3, 2015

Abstract:

Adolescence is a phase of lifespan associated with greater independence, and thus greater demands to make self-guided decisions in the face of risks, uncertainty, and varying proximal and distal outcomes. A new wave of developmental research takes a neuroeconomic approach to specify what decision processes are changing during adolescence, along what trajectory they are changing, and what neurodevelopmental processes support these changes. Evidence is mounting to suggest that multiple decision processes are tuned differently in adolescents and adults including reward reactivity, uncertainty-tolerance, delay discounting, and experiential assessments of value and risk. Unique interactions between prefrontal cortical, striatal, and salience processing systems during adolescence both constrain and amplify various component processes of mature decision-making.

Read the full article here.