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.

The Healthy Debate About Mental Health

By Jordan Smoller | The Huffington Post | May 20, 2013

May 2013 may be remembered as a watershed (or maybe a Waterloo) in the history of psychiatry. Two major events have set the stage for a fundamental debate about how we should think about the nature of mental illness. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is about to publish the fifth edition of its diagnostic system of classification: DSM-5. And, three weeks before the publication, Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), announced that his agency will be moving away from funding studies based on the DSM categories. The goal will be to build a new system of classifying psychiatric disorders based on a basic understanding of how genetics, neurobiology and cognitive functions shape the brain and mind. As Insel put it, “patients with mental disorders deserve better” and “we cannot succeed if we use DSM categories as the ‘gold standard.'” Days later, the chair of the DSM-5 Task Force wrote that a new system based on neuroscience is so far “a promissory note” and that the DSM remains essential for the diagnosis of individuals who are suffering in the here and now. “Our patients deserve no less, ” he concluded. Continue reading »

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. 





Scientific Research – and Caution – Are Needed in the Courts: Dispatch from APLS 2013

adapted from “Persistence of Memory” (Dali, 1931)

This year’s Annual Conference of the American Psychology Law Society (Division 41 of the American Psychological Association) was held in Portland, Oregon, a fortuitously appropriate location for the ongoing debate about how to diminish problems associated with eyewitness testimony.

Recently, the Oregon Supreme Court issued an important decision, in State of Oregon v. Lawson (2012), about procedures for managing potentially unreliable eyewitness testimony; the decision was Oregon’s answer to another groundbreaking case, State of New Jersey v. Henderson (2011).

In the Henderson case, which CLBB faculty member Dr. Daniel Schacter, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and a leading researcher on memory, discussed at CLBB’s recent event “Memory in the Courtroom: Fixed, Fallible, or Fleeting?”, the court reviewed extensive scientific research and heard expert testimony from eyewitness researchers about empirically identified problems in memory encoding, memory recall, and factors that can and cannot be controlled by investigators to minimize bias and error (e.g., length of time between the crime and witness interview, visibility at the scene of the crime).

Continue reading »

Watch: “Models of the Mind: How Neuroscience, Psychology, and the Law Collide”

Models of the Mind

Click above to view the flyer for this event.

On April 25 at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph Martin Amphitheater, CLBB joined forces with the Northeastern University’s Affective Science Institute to host a conversation among experts in neuroscience, psychology, and the law about three distinct and sometimes conflicting views on the causes of human behavior.  How do the three models understand cause and effect, attribute blame, and think about rehabilitation?

Panelists included Lisa Feldman Barrett, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University and Research Scientist in the Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology at MGH; Randy Buckner, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Director of Psychiatric Neuroimaging at MGH; Amanda Pustilnik, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Maryland School of Law where she teaches Criminal Law, Evidence, and Law & Neuroscience.

Ed Hundert, Senior Lecturer in Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School, moderated a panel discussion and Audience Q&A following speaker remarks.

Watch the individual presentations below, or visit our “Models of the Mind” channel at

Continue reading »