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

Why We Can’t Trust Ben Carson’s Memories — or Anyone Else’s

By Justin Wm. Moyer | The Washington Post | November 9, 2015

Since last week, sometime Republican presidential front-runner Ben Carson has been battling stories about his stories of his dark past. In a 1990 memoir and in many speeches since, he claimed he was a violent youth; that he had tried to hit his mother with a hammer; that he had tried to stab a classmate at 14; that he had punched another with a lock in his hand. The problem: CNN went looking for people who could confirm these tales of schoolyard fisticuffs or worse, and the network couldn’t find any.

“We went out to find these people in Detroit,” CNN’s Maeve Reston said. “We went through the yearbooks. We called many of his classmates. We found his close friends through every period of his life. And the person that he describes in these anecdotes on the campaign trail as leading up to this religious epiphany that he had cannot remember any episodes of violence involving Dr. Carson.”

It turned out Carson had used pseudonyms for his victims and, though he said he was still in touch with at least one of them, wouldn’t make them available. It was a question of privacy, he said — even after a flawed Politico story about Carson’s alleged “full scholarship” to West Point raised more questions about his memory. Over the weekend, Carson suggested that the media find another tale to tell.

“It’s time to really move on,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “It’s not time to spend every single day talking about something that happened 50 years ago.”

But Carson’s memory problems are not unique to the pediatric neurosurgeon. They are shared by at least one of his rivals for the presidential nomination; they are shared by countless memoirists and witnesses to crimes; indeed, they are shared by anyone who remembers anything. For study after study shows that our memories deceive us, even when we insist they do not. Continue reading »

PBS and Alan Alda Explore How Neuroscience Could Change Law

This September, a new two-part PBS broadcast hosted by Alan Alda is taking on an issue at the heart of CLBB’s mission: how brain science could improve the criminal justice system.

Speaking with experts including Gene Beresin of Harvard Medical School, Joshua Buckholtz of Harvard University and a CLBB faculty member, Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health, Joshua Greene of Harvard, Owen Jones of Vanderbilt University and Kent Kiehl of the University of New Mexico, Brains on Trial asks:

– Why is there a need to revamp the criminal justice system?
– What do we already know about neuroscience in the courtroom?
– What can future courtrooms expect from neuroscience?

The website for the production includes law and neuroscience resources as well as information about the numerous experts who contributed.

Brains on Trial will air September 11 and 18 on PBS. On September 17, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT will host an event with Alan Alda discussing the production and the issues.’

RSVP for the 9/17 event at MIT with Alan Alda, Steven Morse, Nancy Kanwisher, Josh Greene, and Bob Desimone.

Go to the official page for Brains on Trial.

Read more about Brains on Trial.

 

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.

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.

Continue reading »