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

Habitual Control of Goal Selection in Humans

By Fiery Cushman and Adam Morris | Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | September 10, 2015

Abstract: 

Humans choose actions based on both habit and planning. Habitual control is computationally frugal but adapts slowly to novel circumstances, whereas planning is computationally expensive but can adapt swiftly. Current research emphasizes the competition between habits and plans for behavioral control, yet many complex tasks instead favor their integration. We consider a hierarchical architecture that exploits the computational efficiency of habitual control to select goals while preserving the flexibility of planning to achieve those goals. We formalize this mechanism in a reinforcement learning setting, illustrate its costs and benefits, and experimentally demonstrate its spontaneous application in a sequential decision-making task.

Read the full article here.

Deconstructing Intent to Reconstruct Morality

By Fiery Cushman | Current Opinion in Psychology | June 25, 2015

Abstract:

Mental state representations are a crucial input to human moral judgment. This fact is often summarized by saying that we restrict moral condemnation to “intentional” harms. This simple description is the beginning of a theory, however, not the end of one. There is rich internal structure to the folk concept of intentional action, which comprises a series of causal relations between mental states, actions and states of affairs in the world. Moral judgment shows nuanced patterns of sensitivity to all three of these elements: mental states (like beliefs and desires), the actions that a person performs, and the consequences of those actions. Deconstructing intentional action into its elemental fragments will enable future theories to reconstruct our understanding of moral judgment.

Read full article here.

WATCH – “Moral Decisions in the Law: What’s the Brain Got to Do with It?”

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Law – particularly criminal law – is infused with moral judgment and calls upon prosecutors, judges, and and jurors to make morally-informed decisions. But where does morality come from? How do we “do” moral decision-making?

At this lunchtime seminar, experimental philosopher and neuroscientist Fiery Cushman led a fascinating and provocative discussion of the current state of neuroscience research on morality. Dr. Cushman presented his computational models of learning and moral decision-making to describe how we learn what morality is within our own cultures, how we internalize moral rules, and how we make moral judgments about others. Amanda Pustilnik, Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience at the Petrie-Flom Center and CLBB, responded.

The event was held on April 8, 2015 at Harvard Law School. Continue reading »

WATCH – “Does Brain Difference Affect Legal & Moral Responsibility?”

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Brains create behavior. Yet we hold people, not brains, morally and legally responsible for their actions. Under what conditions could – or should – brain disorder affect the way which we assign moral and legal responsibility to a person? 

In this conversation among a neuroscientist who studies moral judgment, a forensic psychiatrist, and a law professor, we explored three cases that highlight the relationship between brain disorder, law-breaking, and norms relating to responsibility. Continue reading »