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

Neuroscience and Behavioral Genetics in US Criminal Law: An Empirical Analysis

By Nita Farahany | Journal of Law and the Biosciences | January 14, 2016

Abstract:

The goal of this study was to examine the growing use of neurological and behavioral genetic evidence by criminal defendants in US criminal law. Judicial opinions issued between 2005–12 that discussed the use of neuroscience or behavioral genetics by criminal defendants were identified, coded and analysed. Yet, criminal defendants are increasingly introducing such evidence to challenge defendants’ competency, the effectiveness of defense counsel at trial, and to mitigate punishment.

Read the entire paper here.

Changes in Seasons, Changes for Children

By Robert Kinscherff, Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience

It is fitting that I am writing this first blog of my time as Senior Fellow in Law and Applied Neuroscience as we transition through the change of seasons.  It is a privilege to have the time afforded by this joint Fellowship between Harvard Law School (Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics) and Massachusetts General Hospital (Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior) to focus upon the intersections of behavioral science, developmental neuroscience, and juvenile justice.  The autumnal change of seasons is a fitting metaphor for the slow but profound changes occurring in juvenile justice which have been spurred in large measure by emerging neuroscience increasingly describing the neurobiology of adolescence.  This neuroscience provides the biological complement to what developmental psychologists have well described and what parents have long known:  Children are different. Continue reading »

Steve Hyman on Translational Neuroscience

Hyman_150x150Steven Hyman is a co-editor of the new book, Translational Neuroscience: Toward New Therapies, published by the MIT Press. This volume, composed of insights from expert contributors, takes a look at the current state of translational neuroscience, challenges it faces, and effective ways forward. In overview:

Today, translational neuroscience faces significant challenges. Available therapies to treat brain and nervous system disorders are extremely limited and dated, and further development has effectively ceased. Disinvestment by the private sector occurred just as promising new technologies in genomics, stem cell biology, and neuroscience emerged to offer new possibilities. In this volume, experts from both academia and industry discuss how novel technologies and reworked translation concepts can create a more effective translational neuroscience.

The contributors consider such topics as using genomics and neuroscience for better diagnostics and biomarker identification; new approaches to disease based on stem cell technology and more careful use of animal models; and greater attention to human biology and what it will take to make new therapies available for clinical use. They conclude with a conceptual roadmap for an effective and credible translational neuroscience—one informed by a disease-focused knowledge base and clinical experience.

Dr. Hyman is also a featured contributor to the new book, Free Will and the Brain: Neuroscientific, Philosophical, and Legal Perspectives, edited by Walter Glannon and published by Cambridge University Press. His chapter, “Neurobiology Collides with Moral and Criminal Responsibility: The Result is Double Vision”, falls under Part V of the book, dealing with the legal implications of neuroscience, and including a chapter from Dr. Stephen Morse.

Order Translational Neuroscience: Toward New Therapies and Free Will and the Brain today!

Judith Edersheim Answers: Can Neuroscience Ever Have a Place in the Courtroom?

CLBB Co-Director Dr. Judith Edersheim shared her expert knowledge with Dylan Goldstein of Brain Decoder on the role of neuroscience in the courtroom. She notes:

There is an indisputable core of cases in which neuroscience by all accounts should be in the courtroom. Cases where you have a lesion or defect and you can make a very certain causal link to the behavior at issue.

At the same time, she highlights the limitations of relying solely on neuroscience in legal cases:

Scholars have been trying to crack this issue for a long time, and the problem is taking group data and applying it to an individual. If you have a range of behaviors and a range of deficits in a group, we still can’t reliably place one individual along the continuum.

Our links between brain and behavior are not always solid enough to prove causation…. If you’re going to assert causation with a lesion, you have to say that this lesion is responsible for the behavior in a fairly clear way, and that no other brain regions are helping or compensating. In an organism with tremendous variation, it’s not always easy to say.

Read the rest of the piece from Brain Decoder, “Can Neuroscience Ever Have a Place in the Courtroom?”, by Dylan Goldstein, published August 12, 2015.

The Neural Representation of Typical and Atypical Experiences of Negative Images: Comparing Fear, Disgust and Morbid Fascination

By Suzanne Oosterwijk, Kristen A. LindquistMorenikeji Adebayo, and Lisa Feldman Barrett | Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience | July 14, 2015

Abstract:

Negative stimuli do not only evoke fear or disgust, but can also evoke a state of “morbid fascination” which is an urge to approach and explore a negative stimulus. In the present neuroimaging study, we applied an innovative method to investigate the neural systems involved in typical and atypical conceptualizations of negative images. Participants received false feedback labeling their mental experience as fear, disgust or morbid fascination. This manipulation was successful; participants judged the false feedback correct for 70% of the trials on average. The neuroimaging results demonstrated differential activity within regions in the ‘neural reference space for discrete emotion’ depending on the type of feedback. We found robust differences in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex comparing morbid fascination to control feedback. More subtle differences in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex were also found between morbid fascination feedback and the other emotion feedback conditions. The present study is the first to forward evidence about the neural representation of the experimentally unexplored state of morbid fascination. In line with a constructionist framework, our findings suggest that neural resources associated with the process of conceptualization contribute to the neural representation of this state.

Read the full article here.