News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.


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

Joshua Buckholtz on Imaging, Genetics of Antisocial Behavior & Psychopathy

CLBB Faculty Member Joshua Buckholtz is a featured contributor in the new volume, Neuroimaging Genetics: Principles and Practices, published by Oxford University Press. According to the description, “The work presented in this volume elaborates on the explosive interest from diverse research areas in psychiatry and neurology in the use of imaging genetics as a unique tool to establish and identify mechanisms of risk, establish biological significance, and extend statistical evidence of genetic associations.” Dr. Buckholtz, along with Hayley M. Dorfman, wrote a chapter entitled, “Imaging Genetics of Antisocial Behavior and Psychopathy”, under Part IV of the book.

Check out Neuroimaging Genetics: Principles and Practices today!

Imaging Brains, Changing Minds: How Pain Neuroimaging Can Inform the Law

By Amanda Pustilnik | Alabama Law Review | 2015


What would the law do differently if it could see into the black box of the mind? One of the most valuable things it might do is reform the ways it deals with pain. Pain is ubiquitous in law, from tort to torture, from ERISA to expert evidence. Yet legal doctrines grapple with pain poorly, embodying concepts that are generations out of date and that cast suspicion on pain sufferers as having a problem that is “all in their heads.”

Now, brain-imaging technologies are allowing scientists to see the brain in pain—and to reconceive of many types of pain as neurodegenerative diseases. Brain imaging proves that the problem is in sufferers’ heads: Long-term pain shrinks the brain and changes the way it functions.

This new science has immediate practical and theoretical applications for the law. This Article first proposes reforms to disability law doctrines and their judicial interpretation. It then proposes ways in which pain neuroimaging ought to be handled as a matter of expert evidence in state, federal, and administrative proceedings. Drawing on work in evidence theory, it considers black letter evidence law as well as normative practices that shape how decision makers weigh evidence and credibility. It also offers limits on the use of brain images.

In opening a window into how the brain generates subjective experiences, neuroimaging should lead to doctrinal and practice-based revisions that increase law’s accuracy and fairness. So doing, brain imaging should change the law’s mind about the nature of pain and may require the law to rethink its dualism between body and mind.

Continue reading the paper here.


Neuroimaging as Evidence of Pain: It’s Time to Prepare

By Henry T. Greely, Edelman Johnson Professor of Law, Stanford Law School; Professor (by courtesy) of Genetics, Stanford Medical School; Director, Program in Neuroscience & Society, Stanford University

The recent meeting at Harvard on neuroimaging, pain, and the law demonstrated powerfully that the offering of neuroimaging as evidence of pain, in court and in administrative hearings, is growing closer. The science for identifying a likely pattern of neuroimaging results strongly associated with the subjective sensation of pain keeps improving. Two companies (and here) recently were founded to provide electro-encephalography (EEG) evidence of the existence of pain. And at least one neuroscientist has been providing expert testimony that a particular neuroimaging signal detected using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is useful evidence of the existence of pain, as discussed recently in Nature.

If nothing more is done, neuroimaging evidence of pain will be offered, accepted, rejected, relied upon, and discounted in the normal, chaotic course of the law’s evolution. A “good” result, permitting appropriate use of some valid neuroimaging evidence and rejecting inappropriate use of other such evidence, might come about. Or it might not.

We can do better than this existing non-system. And the time to start planning a better approach is now. (Read on for more on how)  Continue reading »

Brain Genomics Superstruct Project Initial Data Release with Structural, Functional, and Behavioral Measures

By Avram J. Holmes, Marisa O. Hollinshead, Timothy M. O’Keefe, Victor I. Petrov, Gabriele R. Fariello, Lawrence L. Wald, Bruce Fischl, Bruce R. Rosen, Ross W. Mair, Joshua L. RoffmanJordan W. Smoller and Randy L. Buckner | Scientific Data | July 7, 2015


The goal of the Brain Genomics Superstruct Project (GSP) is to enable large-scale exploration of the links between brain function, behavior, and ultimately genetic variation. To provide the broader scientific community data to probe these associations, a repository of structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans linked to genetic information was constructed from a sample of healthy individuals. The initial release, detailed in the present manuscript, encompasses quality screened cross-sectional data from 1,570 participants ages 18 to 35 years who were scanned with MRI and completed demographic and health questionnaires. Personality and cognitive measures were obtained on a subset of participants. Each dataset contains a T1-weighted structural MRI scan and either one (n=1,570) or two (n=1,139) resting state functional MRI scans. Test-retest reliability datasets are included from 69 participants scanned within six months of their initial visit. For the majority of participants self-report behavioral and cognitive measures are included (n=926 and n=892 respectively). Analyses of data quality, structure, function, personality, and cognition are presented to demonstrate the dataset’s utility.

Read the full article here.

Brain’s ‘pain meter’ identified

By Tanya Lewis | Live Science | 5 March 2015

The brain’s “pain sensor” has been found, researchers say. When you step on a thumbtack or hit your funny bone, this is the part of your brain that lights up.

Researchers conducted imaging scans of the brains of people who were experiencing pain waxing and waning over several hours. They identified a region of the brain called the dorsal posterior insula, which became active in response to how much pain a person felt. Continue reading »