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

From Blame to Punishment: Disrupting Prefrontal Cortex Activity Reveals Norm Enforcement Mechanisms

By Joshua W. Buckholtz, Justin W. Martin, Michael T. Treadway, Katherine Jan, David H. Zald, Owen Jones, and René Marois | Neuron | September 16, 2015

Summary:

The social welfare provided by cooperation depends on the enforcement of social norms. Determining blameworthiness and assigning a deserved punishment are two cognitive cornerstones of norm enforcement. Although prior work has implicated the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in norm-based judgments, the relative contribution of this region to blameworthiness and punishment decisions remains poorly understood. Here, we used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and fMRI to determine the specific role of DLPFC function in norm-enforcement behavior. DLPFC rTMS reduced punishment for wrongful acts without affecting blameworthiness ratings, and fMRI revealed punishment-selective DLPFC recruitment, suggesting that these two facets of norm-based decision making are neurobiologically dissociable. Finally, we show that DLPFC rTMS affects punishment decision making by altering the integration of information about culpability and harm. Together, these findings reveal a selective, causal role for DLPFC in norm enforcement: representational integration of the distinct information streams used to make punishment decisions.

Read the full paper here.

The Problem With Teens Is That They’re Just Too Rational

By Nancy Shute | NPR | September 9, 2015

Teenagers get dissed for being irrational and making bad decisions, which can lead to very bad things, like drunken driving, risky sex and drug use.

But what if the problem is really that teens are just a little too rational?  Continue reading »

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.

Older Adults with Depression and Mild Cognitive Impairment are More Vulnerable to Accelerated Brain Aging, Pitt Study Says

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Media Relations | August 7, 2014

People who develop depression and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) after age 65 are more likely to have biological and brain imaging markers that reflect a greater vulnerability for accelerated brain aging, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The findings were published online in Molecular Psychiatry.

Older adults with major depression have double the risk of developing dementia in the future compared with those who have never had the mood disorder, said senior investigator Meryl A. Butters, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, Pitt School of Medicine. But there’s no clear explanation for why a treatable mood disorder like depression leads to increased risk for dementia, a progressive brain disease. Until now, most studies have examined only one or two biomarkers to get at this question. Continue reading »

Sterling trial spotlights major issue for Baby Boomers

By Josh Peter | USA Today | July 7, 2014

LOS ANGELES — Beyond the high-powered lawyers and public fight over the $2 billion sale of an NBA team, Donald and Shelly Sterling are caught in a struggle that often unfolds when someone reaches an advanced age and difficult questions arise.

Is it safe for him to drive? Does he need a caregiver?

Or, in the case of 80-year-old Donald Sterling, does he have the mental capacity to serve as a co-trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, which owns the Los Angeles Clippers? Continue reading »