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

WATCH – “Does Brain Difference Affect Legal & Moral Responsibility?”

Click to view event poster.

Click to view event poster.

Brains create behavior. Yet we hold people, not brains, morally and legally responsible for their actions. Under what conditions could – or should – brain disorder affect the way which we assign moral and legal responsibility to a person? 

In this conversation among a neuroscientist who studies moral judgment, a forensic psychiatrist, and a law professor, we explored three cases that highlight the relationship between brain disorder, law-breaking, and norms relating to responsibility. Continue reading »

Neuroscience in Court: The Painful Truth

By Sara Reardon | Nature | 25 February 2015

This article features Amanda Pustilnik, the 2014-2015 Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience at CLBB and The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Pustilnik’s involvement in the CLBB Pain & Suffering Working Group and their recent Symposium is cited. Nature also published an editorial on pain imaging in the same issue.

Annie is lying down when she answers the phone; she is trying to recover from a rare trip out of the house. Moving around for an extended period leaves the 56-year-old exhausted and with excruciating pain shooting up her back to her shoulders. “It’s really awful,” she says. “You never get comfortable.”

In 2011, Annie, whose name has been changed at the request of her lawyer, slipped and fell on a wet floor in a restaurant, injuring her back and head. The pain has never eased, and forced her to leave her job in retail.

Annie sued the restaurant, which has denied liability, for several hundred thousand dollars to cover medical bills and lost income. To bolster her case that she is in pain and not just malingering, Annie’s lawyer suggested that she enlist the services of Millennium Magnetic Technologies (MMT), a Connecticut-based neuroimaging company that has a centre in Birmingham, Alabama, where Annie lives. MMT says that it can detect pain’s signature using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures and maps blood flow in the brain as a proxy for neural activity. Continue reading »

A Search Warrant For Your Brain?

By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg | Inside Science | 24 February 2015

Brain imaging can already pull bits of information from the minds of willing volunteers in laboratories. What happens when police or lawyers want to use it to pry a key fact from the mind of an unwilling person?

Will your brain be protected under the Fourth Amendment from unreasonable search and seizure?

Or will your brain have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination? Continue reading »

Neuroscience is coming to the law. Can we keep politics out of it?

By Francis Shen and Dena Gromet | The Washington Post | 25 February 2015

Neuroscience is appearing everywhere. And the legal system is taking notice. The past few years have seen the emergence of “neurolaw.” A spread in the NYT Magazine, a best-selling NYT book, a primetime PBS documentary, the first Law and Neuroscience casebook, and a multimillion-dollar investment from the MacArthur Foundation to fund a Research Network on Law and Neuroscience have all fueled interest in how neuroscience might revolutionize the law. Continue reading »

CLBB Brief changes Mass. Eyewitness Testimony Law

Harnessing the current scientific consensus on the neuroscience of memory, CLBB recently contributed to a fundamental shift in the treatment of eyewitness identifications in Massachusetts courtrooms. CLBB partnered with the American Psychological Association to submit an Amicus Brief to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which outlined the latest neuroscientific understanding of eyewitness memory.

The brief addressed the misconception that human memory may work like a video camera and rejected the notion that witnesses who are highly confident in their identifications are therefore necessarily reliable. It outlined research demonstrating that a witness’s viewing of the same suspect in multiple identification procedures lowers the reliability of subsequent identifications and research regarding the effect of stress on the ability to recall past events. The Court embraced the core arguments presented in the Amicus brief, namely that these scientific principles regarding the limits of eyewitness identification are so well established that in appropriate cases, juries should be explicitly instructed about these limitations. Continue reading »