News and Commentary Archive

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


The Center for Law, Brain & Behavior puts the most accurate and actionable neuroscience in the hands of judges, lawyers, policymakers and journalists—people who shape the standards and practices of our legal system and affect its impact on people’s lives. We work to make the legal system more effective and more just for all those affected by the law.

A Schizophrenic on Death Row

The Florida Supreme Court decided on Wednesday that the state can proceed with the execution next week of a 64-year-old inmate named John Ferguson. His lawyers immediately said that they will ask the United States Supreme Court to stay the execution and to review the case on grounds that Mr. Ferguson is mentally incompetent and that executing him would violate his constitutional rights as defined by the court in two earlier decisions.

The court must review the case. At issue are not only Mr. Ferguson’s life but also two differing interpretations of what constitutes competence: one Florida’s, the other the Supreme Court’s.

Mr. Ferguson believes that he is the Prince of God and that he is facing execution not for murders he committed but because of a conspiracy against him for being the prince. He believes that he cannot be killed and that he has “inner ears” so he can hear God whisper instructions. All of this is consistent with his being a paranoid schizophrenic, as he was diagnosed 40 years ago and many times since, including earlier this month. …

Source: The New York Times, Oct. 17, 2012.

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CLBB Faculty Lisa Feldman Barrett Elected to The Royal Society of Canada

Lisa Feldman Barrett
Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Research Neuroscientist, and CLBB Faculty Board member Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D, was recently elected to The Royal Society of Canada (RSC): The Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada. The Society consists of elected Canadian citizens or residents who have made outstanding contributions to the arts, humanities, sciences, and Canadian public life, and is the highest Canadian honor that a scholar in the aforementioned fields can receive. We congratulate Dr. Feldman Barrett on this impressive achievement, and are proud to have her on our board.

Neuroprediction and Crime

Sixty minutes goes by in the blink of an eye. It’s barely enough time to accomplish much of anything, really. But by the next tick of the long hand, two Americans will have lost their lives to acts of violence. In that same hour, 250 more will need medical treatment for a violence-related injury. As the hours pass, so mount the costs: on average $1.3 Million for each violent fatality and $80,000 for each non-fatal assault. Each year, nearly 3% of our country’s gross domestic product is lost due to violence.

As these staggering numbers make clear, violent crime is one of the most pressing public health problems of our age. Scientists have a duty to address large-scale social problems like violent crime, and scientific research aimed at preventing antisocial behavior would seem likely to provide a particularly good return on taxpayer investment. But to what extent can science actually help? I believe there is a considerable disconnect between the aims of science and the goals of criminal law, and that should lead us to be cautious. Continue reading »

‘Your Honor, My Genes Made Me Do It’

There have been many theories to explain violent behavior. The latest involves a defective ‘warrior gene.’

Recent high-profile cases of mass shootings have renewed a vigorous debate about the causes of violent behavior. Predicting violence, whether by sentencing judges, parole boards or mental health professionals, has been a perplexing issue as we try to unravel the personal and social forces behind criminal behavior. Continue reading »

The Criminal Mind: Born or Made?

In this segment from the October 18th episode of the new PBS series NOVA ScienceNOW, CLBB faculty member Joshua Buckholtz discusses the so-called “warrior gene” with host David Pogue.

The Criminal Mind: Born or Made– – How might genes, brain structure, and environment conspire to make one person a criminal and another a rule-abiding citizen? We meet scientists working to uncover the biology of aggression–and explore the brain circuitry that could play a key role in the creation of a violent mind.

Watch Can Science Stop Crime? on PBS. See more from NOVA scienceNOW.