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

Do Not Rely on Facial Expressions for How People Are Feeling

The Economist reported on a recently published study by CLBB Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, which complicated our understanding of facial expression and emotions. Dr. Lisa Feldman was interviewed for the article and her study was featured prominently:

“As Lisa Feldman Barrett, one of the authors of the study, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, told the AAAS meeting in Seattle, ‘We surprised ourselve’. Dr Feldman Barrett is a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and along with her colleagues she found that, on average, adults in urban cultures scowled when they were angry 30% of the time. Which meant that some 70% of the time they did not scowl when angry. Instead, they did something else with their faces. People also scowled when they were not angry. ‘They scowl when they’re concentrating, they scowl when someone tells them a bad joke, they scowl when they have gas, they scowl for lots of reasons,’ says Dr Feldman Barrett.

A scowl, the researchers concluded, is certainly one expression of anger. But it is not the only way people express that emotion. The ambiguous nature of facial expressions was not restricted to anger, but seemed valid for all six of the emotional categories that they examined: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise.”

Additionally, the article also highlighted the significant of this research:

“All this raises questions about the efforts of information-technology companies to develop artificial-intelligence algorithms which can recognise facial expressions and work out a person’s underlying emotional state. Microsoft, for example, claims its “Emotion api” is able to detect what people are feeling by examining video footage of them. Another of the study’s authors, however, expressed scepticism. Aleix Martinez, a computer engineer at Ohio State University, said that companies attempting to extract emotions from images of faces have failed to understand the importance of context.”

Read the full article, “Do not rely on facial expressions for how people are feeling”, published by The Economist on February 20, 2020.

WATCH: 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

The Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience is a collaboration between the MGH Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Watch a video of this event:

When Is Speech Violence?

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | July 14, 2017

Imagine that a bully threatens to punch you in the face. A week later, he walks up to you and breaks your nose with his fist. Which is more harmful: the punch or the threat?

The answer might seem obvious: Physical violence is physically damaging; verbal statements aren’t. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

But scientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sickalter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life. Continue reading »

The Making Of Emotions, From Pleasurable Fear To Bittersweet Relief

Part of the ongoing coverage of Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett’s new book, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain.

CLBB’s Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett is interviewed by NPR after being featured on the scientific podcast, Invisibilia. She discusses the theory of emotions presented in her latest book, How Emotions Are Made, noting, “[the “classical view” of emotions] matches the way that many of us experience emotion, as if something’s happening outside of our control. But the problem with this set of ideas is that the data don’t support them. There’s a lot of evidence which challenges this view from every domain of science that’s ever studied it.” Continue reading »

WATCH — How Emotions Are Made

Click event poster to RSVP

Why do emotions feel automatic and uncontrollable? Does rational thought really control emotion? How does emotion affect disease? How can you make your children more emotionally intelligent?

A new theory of how the brain constructs emotions could revolutionize our understanding of the human mind.

How Emotions Are Made answers these questions and many more, revealing the latest research and intriguing practical applications of the new science of emotion, mind, and brain. Join psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett as she discusses her new book and its implications for psychology, health care, the legal system, and more. CLBB Faculty Member Dr. Joshua Buckholtz (of the Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital) will serve as a commentator, while New York Times editor James Ryerson will moderate the conversation and subsequent audience Q&A.

This event will be held on Thursday, April 13, 2017, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Bornstein Amphitheater, from 7:00-8:30 pm. 

Make sure to RSVP for the event here!

This event is free and open to the public. A brief reception will precede the event from 6:30-7:00 PM.

Continue reading »