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

Psychosocial Maturity and Desistance From Crime in a Sample of Serious Juvenile Offenders

Laurence Steinberg, Elizabeth Cauffman, and Kathryn C. Monahan | US Department of Justice – Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Bulletin | March 2015

Highlights:

The Pathways to Desistance study followed more than 1,300 serious juvenile offenders for 7 years after their conviction. In this bulletin, the authors present key findings on the link between psychosocial maturity and desistance from crime in the males in the Pathways sample as they transition from midadolescence to early adulthood (ages 14–25):

  • Recent research indicates that youth experience protracted maturation, into their midtwenties, of brain systems responsible for self-regulation. This has stimulated interest in measuring young offenders’ psychosocial maturity into early adulthood.
  • Youth whose antisocial behavior persisted into early adulthood were found to have lower levels of psychosocial maturity in adolescence and deficits in their development of maturity (i.e., arrested development) compared with other antisocial youth.
  • The vast majority of juvenile offenders, even those who commit serious crimes, grow out of antisocial activity as they transition to adulthood. Most juvenile offending is, in fact, limited to adolescence.
  • This study suggests that the process of maturing out of crime is linked to the process of maturing more generally, including the development of impulse control and future orientation.

Read the full article here.

A Primer on Criminal Law and Neuroscience

Released in 2013, this landmark handbook condenses three years of interdisciplinary study supported by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, and edited by neurolaw scholars Adina Roskies and Stephen J. Morse.

The varied chapters provide a range of opinions and insights as to the usefulness of neuroscience in criminal law, while the book’s approach is to address both conceptual problems and empirical evidence relating to the relevance of neuroscience in the courtroom.

More information on the Primer can be found on the publisher’s website.

Neuroscience Experts on the Stand

The use of neuroscience in the courtroom has a long and controversial history (Baskin, Edersheim, & Price, 2007). Some observers will recall introduction of computerized tomography (CT) scans to support a diagnosis of Schizophrenia at the John Hinckley Jr. trial for his attempted assassination of President Reagan (United States v. Hinckley, 1982). In subsequent years, much has changed in neuroscience and the law. Recent advances in technology and methods for collecting and analyzing imaging data, coupled with decreasing costs and greater availability of training, has resulted in an explosion of neuroscientific research (Rosen & Savoy, 2012). The ability to track fluctuating brain activity (i.e., functional data), as opposed to examining structural or anatomical images, has allowed for research in a wide-array of applied fields.

It is not surprising that techniques that could presumably measure thought patterns, identify lying, detect psychopathology, and assess for violence and impulsivity, incite interest in the legal community (Jones, Wagner, Faigman, & Raichle, 2013). The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience has tracked peer-reviewed publications in the field of neurolaw (application of neurosciences to legal questions). Between 2003 and 2013, the total number of articles skyrocketed from less than 100 to more than 1,100 (Jones et al., 2013). A debate has ensued about the appropriate use of neuroscience research in the courtroom. Many researchers urge strong caution in applying this nascent field to complicated psycho-legal questions (Appelbaum, 2009; Rushing & Langleben, 2011). Continue reading »

Steve Hyman: Too Soon for Neuroscience to Transform Legal System

Brain science is discovering more about the inner workings of the mind that we’ve ever known before—but we’re still a long way from being able to apply those findings toward predicting or even understanding individuals’ behavior, experts say.

Speaking at a discussion on “Neuroscience and the Law” organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., CLBB faculty member Steven Hyman, Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, emphasized the practical limitations of current research.

In cases of violent crime, for example, even if a brain scan found abnormal activity in a region associated with impulse control or emotion regulation, it would show only correlation, not causation, meaning the information would have little use in court. “I would never tell a parole board to decide whether to release somebody or hold on to somebody based on their brain scan as an individual, because I can’t tell what are the causal factors in that individual,” he said.

“I think we’re going to understand a lot more,” Hyman said. “But it’s really early days.”

Also participating in the April 25 event, the first of a series on “Neuroscience and Society” organized by AAAS in partnership with the Dana Foundation and co-sponsored by the International Neuroethics Society and the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, were Judge Barbara Rothstein, a visiting U.S. District Judge from the Western District of Washington state and past director of the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C., and Owen D. Jones, director of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience and a professor of both law and biology at Vanderbilt University.

Read more about “Neuroscience and the Law at the AAAS website. 

 

 

 

 

Conference: The Future of Law and Neuroscience

On Saturday, April 27, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience presented “The Future of Law and Neuroscience,” a one-day conference a law and neuroscience curriculum specifically designed for lawyers, at the Conrad Chicago Hotel in Chicago.

CLBB co-director Judith Edersheim moderated a panel titled “Neuroscience in the Courtroom,” featuring Dr. Nita Farahany, Professor of Law, Professor of Genome Sciences & Policy at Duke University, and Professor Hank Greely, Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law at Stanford Law School; Director, Center for Law and the Biosciences; Professor (by courtesy) of Genetics, Stanford School of Medicine; Chair, Steering Committee of the Center for Biomedical Ethics; and Director, Stanford Interdisciplinary Group on Neuroscience and Society.

Additional panels include “Brain Basics: Neuroscience and Neuroimaging for Lawyers,” “Neuroscience and Juvenile Justice,” and “Decision Making.”

Topics covered at the conference included: An introduction to cognitive neuroscience (including brain imaging techniques) for lawyers; neuroscience and criminal justice; the developing brain; memory and lie detection; and evidentiary issues surrounding neuroscientific evidence.

The conference is co-sponsored by the American Bar Association, Vanderbilt Law School, and the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research.

More info here.