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

A Revised Portrait of Psychopaths

The Harvard Gazette covers a recent study by CLBB Faculty Member Dr. Joshua Buckholtz that challenges the traditional view of psychopaths. The study found that psychopaths struggle to make accurate predictions about the consequences of their actions, challenging the previously-held notion that they simply are unable to feel empathy, remorse, or regret. About the significance of the findings, Dr. Buckholtz notes:

“There are two components to regret. There is retrospective regret, which is how we usually think about regret — the emotional experience after you learn you could have received a better outcome if you had made a different choice. But we also use signals from our environment to make predictions about which actions will or won’t result in regret. What differentiated psychopaths from other people was their inability to use those prospective regret signals, to use information about the choices they were given to anticipate how much regret they were going to experience, and adjust their decision-making accordingly.

“It’s almost like a blindness to future regret. When something happens, they feel regret, but what they can’t do is look forward and use information that would tell them they’re going to feel regret to guide their decision-making.”

On the relationship between the study’s novel findings about psychopathy and criminal behavior, he observes:

“Contrary to what you would expect based on these basic emotional-deficit models, their emotional responses to regret didn’t predict incarceration. We know psychopathy is one of the biggest predictors of criminal behavior, but what we found was that behavioral regret sensitivity moderated that, raising the suggestion that intact behavioral regret sensitivity could be a protective factor against incarceration in psychopathic individuals.

Finally, when commenting on the importance of the research, he notes:

“We actually know very little about how psychopaths make choices. There have been all sorts of research into their emotions and emotional experience, but we know next to nothing about how they integrate information that we extract from the world as a matter of course and use it to make decisions in daily lives. Getting better insight into why psychopaths make such terrible choices, I think, is going to be very important for the next generation of psychopathy research.”

Read the full article, “A Revised Portrait of Psychopaths”, published in the Harvard Gazette on February 2, 2017.

Five Questions for Judith Edersheim

CLBB Co-Director and Co-Founder Dr. Judith Edersheim is interviewed in-depth to comment on what neuroimaging can and cannot reveal about the “criminal brain”. 

By Chloé Hecketsweiler | Undark Magazine | December 6, 2016

CAN BRAIN SCIENCE predict when someone will commit a crime, or tell whether a defendant knew right from wrong? In recent decades, scientists and criminal justice experts have been trying to answer tantalizing questions like these — with mixed success.

The science of predicting crime using algorithms is still shaky, and while sophisticated tools such as neuroimaging are increasingly being used in courtrooms, they raise a host of tricky questions: What kind of brain defect or brain injury should count when assessing a defendant’s responsibility for a crime? Can brain imaging distinguish truth from falsehood? Can neuroscience predict human behavior? Continue reading »

Psychopaths Actually Do Feel Regret, New Research Finds—They Just Don’t Change

CLBB Faculty Member Dr. Joshua Buckholtz is featured in this article for his research indicating that psychopaths feel regret, contrary to popular, previously-held notions of antisocial behavior. About the novel findings, he notes,

“This really shifts the focus in psychopathy from the idea that they are just these cold-blooded, emotionless individuals to people who may have normal emotional experiences, or are capable of having normal emotional experiences, but they do bad things because the mechanisms that we use to make better choices, good decisions are broken in these folks…. Our hope is that this will point to a new direction in psychopathy research.”

Read the full article, “Psychopaths Actually Do Feel Regret, New Research Finds — They Just Don’t Change”, published by Quartz on December 4, 2016.

Selective Mapping of Psychopathy and Externalizing to Dissociable Circuits for Inhibitory Self-Control

By Alexandra M. Rodman, Erik K. Kastman, Hayley M. Dorfman, Arielle Baskin-Sommers, Kent A. Kiehl, Joseph P. Newman, and Joshua W. Buckholtz | Clinical Psychological Science | May 2, 2016

Abstract:

Antisociality is commonly conceptualized as a unitary construct, but there is considerable evidence for multidimensionality. In particular, two partially dissociable symptom clusters—psychopathy and externalizing—have divergent associations to clinical and forensic outcomes and are linked to unique patterns executive dysfunction. Here, we used fMRI in a sample of incarcerated offenders to map these dimensions of antisocial behavior to brain circuits underlying two aspects of inhibitory self-control: interference suppression and response inhibition. We found that psychopathy and externalizing are characterized by unique and task-selective patterns of dysfunction. Although higher levels of psychopathy predicted increased activity within a distributed frontoparietal network for interference suppression, externalizing did not predict brain activity during attentional control. By contrast, each dimension had opposite associations to frontoparietal activity during response inhibition. These findings provide neurobiological evidence supporting the fractionation of antisocial behavior and identify dissociable mechanisms through which different facets predispose dysfunction and impairment.

Read the full article here.

The Dialectic Between Empathy and Violence: An Opportunity for Intervention?

By Doriana Chialant, Judith Edersheim, and Bruce Price | The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences | January 11, 2016

Abstract:

The authors provide a comprehensive review of the neurobiology of empathy and compare this with the neurobiology of psychopathic predatory violence—the most extreme deficit of empathy. This suggests that the specific areas of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, which have been associated with violent behavior, also appear to subserve the capacity for empathy. Damage to these regions may result in the emergence of aggression, but not of empathy, suggesting a structurally inverse relationship between the two. The authors examine the evidence for a dialectic between empathy and predatory violence and explore the implications for early interventions with empathy training in treatment-resistant psychopathy.

Read the full article here.