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

Developmental Dissociation Between the Maturation of Procedural Memory and Declarative Memory

By Amy S. Finn, Priya B. Kalra, Calvin Goetz, Julia A. Leonard, Margaret A. Sheridan, and John D.E. Gabrieli | Journal of Experimental Child Psychology | November 7, 2015

Abstract:

Declarative memory and procedural memory are known to be two fundamentally different kinds of memory that are dissociable in their psychological characteristics and measurement (explicit vs. implicit) and in the neural systems that subserve each kind of memory. Declarative memory abilities are known to improve from childhood through young adulthood, but the developmental maturation of procedural memory is largely unknown. We compared 10-year-old children and young adults on measures of declarative memory and working memory capacity and on four measures of procedural memory that have been strongly dissociated from declarative memory (mirror tracing, rotary pursuit, probabilistic classification, and artificial grammar). Children had lesser declarative memory ability and lesser working memory capacity than adults, but children exhibited learning equivalent to adults on all four measures of procedural memory. Therefore, declarative memory and procedural memory are developmentally dissociable, with procedural memory being adult-like by age 10 years and declarative memory continuing to mature into young adulthood.

Read the full article here.

Why We Can’t Trust Ben Carson’s Memories — or Anyone Else’s

By Justin Wm. Moyer | The Washington Post | November 9, 2015

Since last week, sometime Republican presidential front-runner Ben Carson has been battling stories about his stories of his dark past. In a 1990 memoir and in many speeches since, he claimed he was a violent youth; that he had tried to hit his mother with a hammer; that he had tried to stab a classmate at 14; that he had punched another with a lock in his hand. The problem: CNN went looking for people who could confirm these tales of schoolyard fisticuffs or worse, and the network couldn’t find any.

“We went out to find these people in Detroit,” CNN’s Maeve Reston said. “We went through the yearbooks. We called many of his classmates. We found his close friends through every period of his life. And the person that he describes in these anecdotes on the campaign trail as leading up to this religious epiphany that he had cannot remember any episodes of violence involving Dr. Carson.”

It turned out Carson had used pseudonyms for his victims and, though he said he was still in touch with at least one of them, wouldn’t make them available. It was a question of privacy, he said — even after a flawed Politico story about Carson’s alleged “full scholarship” to West Point raised more questions about his memory. Over the weekend, Carson suggested that the media find another tale to tell.

“It’s time to really move on,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “It’s not time to spend every single day talking about something that happened 50 years ago.”

But Carson’s memory problems are not unique to the pediatric neurosurgeon. They are shared by at least one of his rivals for the presidential nomination; they are shared by countless memoirists and witnesses to crimes; indeed, they are shared by anyone who remembers anything. For study after study shows that our memories deceive us, even when we insist they do not. Continue reading »

Eyewitness Testimony Is Unreliable: The SJC Tries To Reform Its Use

In August 2014, CLBB partnered with the American Psychological Association to submit an Amicus Brief to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) which outlined the latest neuroscientific understanding of eyewitness memory. The following January, the SJC issued an opinion in Commonwealth v. Gomes that changed eyewitness testimony law. This article discusses the reforms the SJC is making to account for the fallibility of memory.

By Daniel S. Medwed | WGBH | September 25, 2015

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), the state’s highest, enjoys a storied place in the annals of progressive legal thought.  Among its many notable achievements, the SJC laid the groundwork for the national recognition of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court last June through its innovative 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the first major case upholding the right of gay couples to wed.

The SJC may well be on the cusp of another trailblazing decision that could also legal resonate across the nation. It has recently taken up an issue near and dear to the hearts of many critics of American criminal justice policy: the problem of eyewitness misidentification.  Continue reading »

Remembering the Past and Imagining the Future: Identifying and Enhancing the Contribution of Episodic Memory

By Daniel L. Schacter and Kevin P. Madore | Memory Studies | August 2015

Abstract:

Recent studies have shown that imagining or simulating future events relies on many of the same cognitive and neural processes as remembering past events. According to the constructive episodic simulation hypothesis (Schacter and Addis, 2007), such overlap indicates that both remembered past and imagined future events rely heavily on episodic memory: future simulations are built on retrieved details of specific past experiences that are recombined into novel events. An alternative possibility is that commonalities between remembering and imagining reflect the influence of more general, non-episodic factors such as narrative style or communicative goals that shape the expression of both memory and imagination. We consider recent studies that distinguish the contributions of episodic and non-episodic processes in remembering the past and imagining the future by using an episodic specificity induction – brief training in recollecting the details of a past experience – and also extend this approach to the domains of problem solving and creative thinking. We conclude by suggesting that the specificity induction may target a process of scene construction that contributes to episodic memory as well as to imagination, problem solving, and creative thinking.

Read the full paper here.

Should Cops Get to Review the Video Before They Report?

By Kathy Pezdek | The Marshall Project | August 13, 2015

The scenario is all too familiar. A police officer with a dash-cam or body camera stops an individual, the situation escalates, the individual is apprehended, a charge is made and the individual is arrested. The question is whether prior to being questioned or even prior to writing a report, should the officer be permitted to view the recorded footage?

Philip Eure, the Department of Investigation’s Inspector General for the NYPD, recently recommended that police officers be prevented from viewing recorded footage before giving a statement to investigators. Quick to respond, New York’s City Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton called this “one of the recommendations of the I.G. that we strongly, strongly disagree with and will not support under any circumstance.” His concern was enhancing the integrity of police officers; “I am not intending to use the cameras to play a game of gotcha with the cops.”

This is a complex issue, but one for which cognitive science research provides a clear answer. If the purpose of any investigation is to get the most complete, accurate information possible, then it could be argued that the officer should view the footage, probably multiple times, prior to being questioned and prior to testifying. Human memory is notoriously flawed, but we can consider recorded footage to be “ground truth.” So according to this argument, bolstering the officer’s account by having him view the recorded footage effectively serves to enhance the accuracy of the officer’s report. And it does.

The problem is that in so doing, two independent lines of evidence – the officer’s eyewitness memory and the recorded footage – are no longer two independent lines of evidence. That is, the eyewitness memory of the officer has been tainted by viewing the recorded footage. If in the prosecution of the case the officer is to serve as an eyewitness, and his memory is to be preserved untainted, then it is critical that the officer not view the footage. Continue reading »