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

Nearly 1 in 10 Americans have severe anger issues and access to guns

By Christopher Ingraham | The Washington Post | April 8, 2015

Roughly 22 million Americans — 8.9 percent of the adult population– have impulsive anger issues and easy access to guns. 3.7 million of these angry gun owners routinely carry their guns in public. And very few of them are subject to current mental health-based gun ownership restrictions.

Those are the key findings of a new study by researchers from Harvard, Columbia and Duke University. “Anger,” in this study, doesn’t simply mean garden-variety aggravation. It means explosive, uncontrollable rage, as measured by responses to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication in the early 2000s. It is “impulsive, out of control, destructive, harmful,” lead author Jeffrey Swanson of Duke University said in an interview. “You and I might shout. These individuals break and smash things and get into physical fights, punch someone in the nose.” Continue reading »

The Reckoning

Adam and Peter Lanza

Peter Lanza’s new house, on a secluded private road in Fairfield County, Connecticut, is an attic room overflowing with shipping crates of what he calls “the stuff.” Since the day in December, 2012, when his son Adam killed his own mother, himself, and twenty-six people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, strangers from across the world have sent thousands upon thousands of letters and other keepsakes: prayer shawls, Bibles, Teddy bears, homemade toys; stories with titles such as “My First Christmas in Heaven”; crosses, including one made by prison inmates. People sent candy, too, and when I visited Peter, last fall, he showed me a bag of year-old caramels. He had not wanted to throw away anything that people sent. But he said, “I was wary about eating anything,” and he didn’t let Shelley Lanza—his second wife—eat any of the candy, either. There was no way to be sure it wasn’t poisoned. Downstairs, in Peter’s home office, I spotted a box of family photographs. He used to display them, he told me, but now he couldn’t look at Adam, and it seemed strange to put up photos of his older son, Ryan, without Adam’s. “I’m not dealing with it,” he said. Later, he added, “You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was. You can’t fool yourself.”

Continue reading »

Mental Illness, Violence and the Gun Control Debate: Evidence, Policy, Privacy and Stigma

Violence is a natural, human behavior, key to both our evolution as a species and to the reproductive success for many an individual vying for scarce food or mating opportunities.  And yet in our modern society, violence is often an unnatural, senseless act, borne out of impulsive aggression — without consideration for the future consequences — or at times, due to gross distortions of reality as can occur for individuals with severe mental illness.

While mental illness is a rare cause of violence, accounting for 3-5% of the violence that reaches our courts, it nonetheless figures prominently in the cultural understanding of violence, particularly since several recent high-profile mass killings involved individuals with clear suggestions of brewing or established psychotic illness.

How can society translate the science of violence and mental illness into practical public health policies that would better protect everyone?

A year after the Sandy Hook massacre, the world seems no closer to understanding why such a horrific act occurred in the case of Adam Lanza, who committed suicide and left few traces of his motives.  It’s no surprise that parents of victims are so desperate for answers and solution that they would entertain imposing routine brain check-ups through a functional MRI scan for those at risk for violence.  Their motives are clear and noble: they want to understand the root causes of violence and find ways that society can protect other children and families from having to undergo the same unimaginable pain and loss they continue to experience every day.  And yet, such a measure would almost certainly represent a violation of several constitutional rights, not to mention being impractical, well beyond the capabilities of the science, and probably by most peoples’ standards, a swing of the pendulum well beyond our comfort zone in the ongoing balance of individual autonomy and public safety.

Continue reading »