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

WATCH: CLBB’s study on brain stimulation and decision-making

By Carey Goldberg | WBUR CommonHealth | August 7, 2014
(part of the Brain Matters series)

The final installment of WBUR’s Brain Matters series featured work from two CLBB faculty, Joshua Buckholtz and Joshua Greene. The tDCS research by Buckholtz discussed below was made possible through a grant from CLBB’s Law and Neuroscience Pilot Fund program, which supports scientists to engage in innovative research at the interface of neuroscience and the law.

Harvard brain scientist Joshua Buckholtz has never forgotten a convict he met back when he was an undergrad conducting psychological tests in prisons. The man had beaten another man nearly to death for stepping on his foot in a dance club.

“I wanted to ask him,” he recalls, “‘In what world was the reward of beating this person so severely, for this — to me — minor infraction, worth having terrible food and barbed wire around you?’ ”

But over the years, Buckholtz became convinced that this bad deed was a result of faulty brain processing, perhaps in a circuit called the frontostriatal dopamine system. In an impulsive person’s brain, he says, attention just gets so narrowly focused on an immediate reward that, in effect, the future disappears. Continue reading »

Cortical Thinning, Functional Connectivity, and Mood-Related Impulsivity in Schizophrenia: Relationship to Aggressive Attitudes and Behavior

By MJ Hoptman, D Antonius, CJ Mauro, EM Parker & DC Javitt | American Journal of Psychiatry | July 2014

Abstract:

Objective: Aggression in schizophrenia is a major societal issue, leading to physical harm, stigmatization, patient distress, and higher health care costs. Impulsivity is associated with aggression in schizophrenia, but it is multidetermined. The subconstruct of urgency is likely to play an important role in this aggression, with positive urgency referring to rash action in the context of positive emotion, and negative urgency referring to rash action in the context of negative emotion.

Method: The authors examined urgency and its neural correlates in 33 patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and 31 healthy comparison subjects. Urgency was measured using the Urgency, Premeditation, Perseverance, and Sensation-Seeking scale. Aggressive attitudes were measured using the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire. Continue reading »

Psychiatric Tests Raise Question of Pistorius’s Criminal Liability

By Alan Cowell | The New York Times | May 22, 2014

Oscar Pistorius

In more than just miles, it is a long way from Olympic Stadium in London to the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, but that is the journey that Oscar Pistorius is about to complete.

Less than two years after he was celebrated at the 2012 Olympic Games as the first disabled athlete to compete against able-bodied runners, Mr. Pistorius on Tuesday was ordered by the judge presiding over his murder trial in Pretoria to present himself as an outpatient at the Weskoppies hospital for up to 30 days of psychiatric assessment.

Starting Monday, a panel of mental health experts will seek to determine whether Mr. Pistorius, in the words of Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, was “capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his act or acting in accordance with appreciation of the wrongfulness of his act” when he opened fire on a locked bathroom door at his home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Continue reading »

Friends Can Be Dangerous

Laurence Steinberg | April 25, 2014 | The New York Times | Sunday Review

27GRAY-master495

I’m not sure whether it’s a badge of honor or a mark of shame, but a paper I published a few years ago is now ranked No. 8 on a list of studies that other psychologists would most like to see replicated. Good news: People find the research interesting. Bad news: They don’t believe it.

The paper in question, written with my former student Margo Gardner, appeared in the journal Developmental Psychology in July 2005. It described a study in which we randomly assigned subjects to play a video driving game, either alone or with two same-age friends watching them. The mere presence of peers made teenagers take more risks and crash more often, but no such effect was observed among adults.

I find my colleagues’ skepticism surprising. Most people recall that as teenagers, they did far more reckless things when with their friends than when alone. Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate that many more juvenile crimes than adult crimes are committed in groups. And driving statistics conclusively show that having same-age passengers in the car substantially increases the risk of a teen driver’s crashing but has no similar impact when an adult is behind the wheel. Continue reading »

When Youth Violence Spurred ‘Superpredator’ Fear

By Clyde Haberman | April 6, 2014 | The New York Times

As the police and prosecutors in Brooklyn tell it, Kahton Anderson boarded a bus on March 20, a .357 revolver at his side. For whatever reason — some gang grudge, apparently — he pulled out the gun and fired at his intended target. Only his aim was rotten. The bullet struck and killed a passenger who was minding his own business several rows ahead: Angel Rojas, a working stiff holding down two jobs to feed his family of four.

Not surprisingly, the shooter was charged with second-degree murder. Not insignificantly, prosecutors said he would be tried as an adult. Kahton is all of 14.

That very young people sometimes commit dreadful crimes is no revelation. Nor is the fact that gang members are to blame for a disproportionate amount of youth violence in American cities. But it is worth noting that in Kahton’s situation, no one in authority or in the news media invoked a certain word from the past with galvanic potential. That word is “superpredator.” Continue reading »