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

NEW DATE: APRIL 9– Crimes of Passion: New Neuroscience vs. Old Doctrine

 

The criminal law often sees love and passion turned into violence. How does this happen? And how should law respond? Many doctrines, most notably the “heat of passion” defense – which historically has been used disproportionately to excuse the crimes of men against women – rely on a distinction between defendants who acted “emotionally” instead of “rationally.” But modern neuroscience has debunked the idea that reason and emotion are two entirely different mental states. This panel will explore how law should respond to this neuroscientific challenge to long-held doctrine.

Panelists:

Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, University Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory at Northeastern University; Research Scientist, Department of Psychiatry, Northeastern University; Research Neuroscientist, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital; Lecturer in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Faculty Affiliate, the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Judge Nancy Gertner (ret.), Senior Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School and Managing Director, MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Jeannie Suk Gersen, JD, PhD, John H. Watson, Jr. Professor of Law

Moderator:

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

WATCH — The Neurolaw Revolution: A Lecture by Francis X. Shen

Rapid advances in the brain sciences offer both promise and peril for the law. In light of these developments, Dr. Francis Shen explored how neuroscientific analysis of law may revolutionize legal doctrine and practice.

Click to enlarge poster.

Dr. Shen is the third Senior Fellow in Law and Neuroscience in the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center. Dr. Shen directs the Shen Neurolaw Lab at the University of Minnesota, is co-author of the first Law and Neuroscience casebook, and serves as Executive Director of Education and Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience.

This event was held from 4:00-5:30 pm on Wednesday, September 13, at Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East A, Harvard Law School (1585 Massachusetts Ave, 02138). It was free and open to the public. This lecture was followed at 5:30 pm by the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2017 Open House reception.

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CLBB Welcomes New Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience!

We’re excited to announce our 2017–2018 Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience, Francis X. Shen!

Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience

The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, now entering its fourth year, is a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. The collaboration includes a Senior Fellow in residence, public symposia, and a Law and Neuroscience Seminar at Harvard Law School taught by the Hon. Nancy Gertner. For more information, see the full press release on the launch of the program.

2017­–2018 Senior Fellow

Francis X. Shen, PhD, JD is the third Senior Fellow in Law and Neuroscience. Shen is currently an Associate Professor of Law and McKnight Presidential Fellow at the University of Minnesota; affiliated faculty at the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Executive Director of Education and Outreach for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. Shen received his JD from Harvard Law School, and his PhD in Government and Social Policy from Harvard.

As Senior Fellow, he will pursue original research, mentoring, and public engagement on legal issues related to the aging brain, dementia, traumatic brain injury, and the law. Activities will include expert symposia and public events to promote focused discussion on how the law can more effectively respond to aging brain issues including dementia and traumatic brain injury.

Shen’s goal during his fellowship year will be to foster this interdisciplinary dialogue on dementia and the law. The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience will assess the utility of law’s traditional approaches to capacity and undue influence in light of emerging science on the neurobiology of dementia; consider the future legal utility and ethics of new biomarkers for dementia; and begin developing new theoretical and practical frameworks for more fairly and effectively adjudicating cases in which dementia plays a role.

Please join us in welcoming Francis Shen to the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior!

To learn more about the Project’s 2017–2018 Area of Inquiry, Dementia and the Law, visit the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience website!

New Neuro Tech Might Be Perfect Evidence for Courtrooms

The Minnesota Daily features a recent study by CLBB Senior Fellow, Dr. Francis Shen, on the influence of memory-testing on jurors’ opinions. The article notes:

As memory-testing technology becomes increasingly common in courthouses and police precincts, one University of Minnesota law professor is testing the gizmos to prevent misuse.

Professor Francis Shen and a team of neuroscience and law students published a report in June showing jurors trust evidence from new memory-testing technology enough to merit its implementation, but not so much that it threatens to over-influence their vote.

When it comes to introducing new neuro-technology to courts and police houses, Shen said, hitting this legal sweet spot is key.

The technology in question, Electroencephalography Memory Recognition (EEG), is used to detect if a subject recognizes a given image or word by tracking activity in memory hotspots of the brain through a skull cap equipped with sensors, said Emily Twedell, a research professional on the project.

The technology works as a more accurate and specialized lie detector, and could help lawyers or police determine if a subject is lying about recognizing unique stolen property, a victim or a crime scene, Shen said.

“The idea is that law can do its job more effectively with the advent of new technology,” Shen said. “But of course, we have to prevent inappropriate uses.”

Shen said neuroscientists and law officials alike are hesitant to implement EEG for fear of misinforming jurors.

Because neither jurors nor law officials are trained in neuroscience, they could be “seduced” by EEG results they don’t understand — that’s where Shen’s team comes in.

To learn about the study’s design and findings, read the full article, “New Neuro Tech Might Be Perfect Evidence for Courtrooms, U Study Shows”, published in the Minnesota Daily on July 12, 2017.

Emotional Harm as “Bodily Injury” in the Law – and in the Brain

By Francis X. Shen, Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of New South Wales ruled that an individual who experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the result of an airplane crash could recover damages under the Montreal Convention. The case was important because many courts have previously ruled that PTSD, absent any other “bodily injury,” was not covered by the bodily injury provisions of the international agreement.

The case is illustrative of the way in which courts across the world continue to find a meaningful distinction between “physical” (or “bodily”) injury/pain and “mental” (or “emotional”) injury/pain. Continue reading »