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

You’re an Adult. Your Brain, Not So Much.

CLBB Faculty Member Leah Somerville and her work on adolescent development are featured in the following article, which highlights the difficulty in determining a distinct line between adolescence and adulthood. Additional coverage about how her work intersects with the CLBB can be found here.

By Carl Zimmer | The New York Times | December 21, 2016

Leah H. Somerville, a Harvard neuroscientist, sometimes finds herself in front of an audience of judges. They come to hear her speak about how the brain develops.

It’s a subject on which many legal questions depend. How old does someone have to be to be sentenced to death? When should someone get to vote? Can an 18-year-old give informed consent?

Scientists like Dr. Somerville have learned a great deal in recent years. But the complex picture that’s emerging lacks the bright lines that policy makers would like. Continue reading »

Beyond Simple Models of Adolescence to an Integrated Circuit-Based Account: A Commentary

By BJ Casey, Adriana Galvan, and Leah Somerville | Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience | December 17, 2015

A hallmark of behavioral development is the increasing ability to suppress inappropriate, competing thoughts, desires, emotions and actions in favor of appropriate ones (i.e., self-control). One developmental phase that has received much attention in recent years is that of adolescence, due in part to the significant brain changes of this period (Lee et al., 2014) and also to the heightened risk for psychopathology and criminally relevant behaviors (Casey et al., 2015 and Cohen and Casey, 2014). Two interesting articles in this issue, by Shulman and colleagues and Nelson and colleagues, review the developmental science literature and describe potential models for understanding adolescent behavioral and brain development focusing largely on the importance of incentives and social influences, respectively, during adolescence.

Continue reading the full article here.

The Neuroscience of Adolescent Decision-Making

By Catherine A. Hartley and Leah H. Somerville | Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences | October 3, 2015

Abstract:

Adolescence is a phase of lifespan associated with greater independence, and thus greater demands to make self-guided decisions in the face of risks, uncertainty, and varying proximal and distal outcomes. A new wave of developmental research takes a neuroeconomic approach to specify what decision processes are changing during adolescence, along what trajectory they are changing, and what neurodevelopmental processes support these changes. Evidence is mounting to suggest that multiple decision processes are tuned differently in adolescents and adults including reward reactivity, uncertainty-tolerance, delay discounting, and experiential assessments of value and risk. Unique interactions between prefrontal cortical, striatal, and salience processing systems during adolescence both constrain and amplify various component processes of mature decision-making.

Read the full article here.

WATCH – “From Troubled Teens to Tsarnaev: Promises and Perils of Adolescent Neuroscience and Law”

Click to enlarge poster.

Click to enlarge poster.

The neuroscience of adolescent brain development has had increasing impact on American jurisprudence. The U.S. Supreme Court relied on this neuroscience in Roper v. Simmons (2005) in barring execution for capital crimes committed as a juvenile and in Miller v. Alabama (2012) in holding that mandatory life without possibility of parole for juveniles is also unconstitutional.

On Monday, September 28, 2015, CLBB and the Petrie-Flom Center assembled a panel of developmental scientists, clinicians, and legal scholars for a panel discussion examining the implications of developmental neuroscience for law in specific domains including death penalty mitigation for young adults over age 18 such as the Tsarnaev case, a developmentally informed view of Miranda and Competence to Stand Trial for juveniles, trial of youth as adults, and conditions of confinement in juvenile and adult incarceration.

The panel discussed the promises and perils for constitutional jurisprudence, legal and public policy reform, and trial practice of relying upon a complex body of science as it emerges. Scroll down to view complete video from the event.

This event is part of 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 for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. 

Continue reading »

MGH-USC Human Connectome Project Datasets with Ultra-High b-Value Diffusion MRI

By Qiuyun Fan, Thomas Witzel, Aapo Nummenmaa, Koene R.A. Van Dijk, John D. Van Horn, Michelle K. Drews, Leah H. SomervilleMargaret A. Sheridan, Rosario M. Santillana, Jenna Snyder, Trey Hedden, Emily E. Shaw, Marisa O. Hollinshead, Ville Renvall, Roberta Zanzonico, Boris Keil, Stephen Cauley, Jonathan R. Polimeni, Dylan Tisdall, Randy L. Buckner, Van J. Wedeen, Lawrence L. Wald, Arthur W. Toga, and Bruce R. Rosen | NeuroImage | September 10, 2015

Abstract:

The MGH–USC CONNECTOM MRI scanner housed at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is a major hardware innovation of the Human Connectome Project (HCP). The 3T CONNECTOM scanner is capable of producing a magnetic field gradient of up to 300 mT/m strength for in vivo human brain imaging, which greatly shortens the time spent on diffusion encoding, and decreases the signal loss due to T2 decay. To demonstrate the capability of the novel gradient system, data of healthy adult participants were acquired for this MGH–USC Adult Diffusion Dataset (N = 35), minimally preprocessed, and shared through the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging Image Data Archive (LONI IDA) and the WU–Minn Connectome Database (ConnectomeDB). Another purpose of sharing the data is to facilitate methodological studies of diffusion MRI (dMRI) analyses utilizing high diffusion contrast, which perhaps is not easily feasible with standard MR gradient system. In addition, acquisition of the MGH–Harvard–USC Lifespan Dataset is currently underway to include 120 healthy participants ranging from 8 to 90 years old, which will also be shared through LONI IDA and ConnectomeDB. Here we describe the efforts of the MGH–USC HCP consortium in acquiring and sharing the ultra-high b-value diffusion MRI data and provide a report on data preprocessing and access. We conclude with a demonstration of the example data, along with results of standard diffusion analyses, including q-ball Orientation Distribution Function (ODF) reconstruction and tractography.

Read the full paper here.