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

Law and Neuroscience

By Owen Jones, Rene Marois, Martha Farah, and Hank Greely | The Journal of Neuroscience | November 2013

Abstract

Law and neuroscience seem strange bedfellows. But the engagement of law with neuroscientific evidence was inevitable. For one thing, the effectiveness of legal systems in regulating behavior and meting out justice often depends on weighing evidence about how and why a person behaved as he or she did. And these are things that neuroscience can sometimes illuminate. For another, lawyers are ethically bound to champion their clients’ interests. So they remain alert for new, relevant, or potentially persuasive information, such as neuroscience may at times offer, that could help to explain or contextualize behavior of their clients. In light of this, and in the wake of remarkable growth in and visibility of neuroscientific research, a distinct field of Law & Neuroscience (sometimes called “neurolaw”) has emerged in barely a decade.

Whether this engagement is ultimately more for better or for worse (there will be both) will depend in large measure on the effectiveness of transdisciplinary partnerships between neuroscientists and legal scholars. How can they best help the legal system to understand both the promise and the perils of using neuroscientific evidence in legal proceedings? And how can they help legal decision-makers draw only legally and scientifically sound inferences about the relationships between particular neuroscientific evidence and particular behaviors?

In this article, we highlight some efforts to establish and expand such partnerships. We identify some of the key reasons why neuroscience may be useful to law, providing examples along the way. In doing so, we hope to further stimulate interdisciplinary communication and collaborative research in this area.

Read the full paper here.

Neuroscientists in Court

By Owen Jones, Anthony Wagner, David Faigman, and Marcus Raichle | Nature Reviews Neuroscience | September 12, 2013

Abstract:

Neuroscientific evidence is increasingly being offered in court cases. Consequently, the legal system needs neuroscientists to act as expert witnesses who can explain the limitations and interpretations of neuroscientific findings so that judges and jurors can make informed and appropriate inferences. The growing role of neuroscientists in court means that neuroscientists should be aware of important differences between the scientific and legal fields, and, especially, how scientific facts can be easily misunderstood by non-scientists, including judges and jurors.

This article describes similarities, as well as key differences, of legal and scientific cultures. And it explains six key principles about neuroscience that those in law need to know.

Read the full paper here.

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. 

 

 

 

 

Steven Hyman to Speak on Neuroscience and the Law at AAAS

CLBB faculty Steven Hyman will speak on a panel titled “Neuroscience and the Law” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in New York on April 25, as part of their “Neuroscience and Society” Series.

The event will discuss the ways in which neuroscience is entering the courtroom; what neuroscience can and cannot tell us about human behavior; and the challenges this emerging knowledge poses for the trier of fact.

Fellow panelists include:

– Alan I. Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Executive Publisher of the journal Science since December 2001 

– Owen Jones, J.D., who serves as Director of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University, with a joint appointment as well as holding the New York Alumni Chancellor’s Chair in Law at Vanderbilt University, where he has a joint appointment as Professor of Biological Sciences.

– Judge Barbara Rothstein, a visiting U.S. District Judge from the Western District of Washington and former Director of the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. from 2003-2011.

Hyman is director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of Harvard University and MIT and a Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard.

Read more about the panelists and event.

Brain Imaging for Legal Thinkers: A Guide for the Perplexed

By Owen Jones, Joshua Buckholtz, Jeffrey Schall, and Rene Marois | Stanford Technology Law Review | 2009

Abstract:

It has become increasingly common for brain images to be proffered as evidence in criminal and civil litigation. This Article – the collaborative product of scholars in law and neuroscience – provides three things. Continue reading »