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.

Lessons in Pain Relief — A Personal Postgraduate Experience

By Philip Pizzo, MD | New England Journal of Medicine | September 2013

Philip Pizzo, MD, was Dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine from 2001-2012. He is also the Heckerman Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Microbiology & Immunology.

Philip Pizzo, MD, was Dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine from 2001-2012. He is also the Heckerman Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Microbiology & Immunology.

When I chaired an Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee on “Relieving Pain in America” (1) and then coauthored a Perspective article about the vast human toll and financial burden imposed by chronic pain, (2) I believed I understood the impact of chronic pain. Not only did I have experience caring for children with life-threatening and frequently painful disorders, I also had relatives with chronic pain syndromes and had witnessed the limitations of the medical care system. But it wasn’t until my own year-long journey with chronic pain that I received a higher-level education on the topic.

I was loading a suitcase onto an airport conveyor belt, when an unexpected twist led to my first twinge of back pain. I assumed it would be self-limited, especially since I was in good physical shape: for the past several decades, I’d been running one to three marathons a year and working at demanding jobs, most recently as a medical school dean. I felt impervious to stress and was almost always optimistic. Chronic pain changed all that. Continue reading »

Should Teens be Held Criminally Responsible?

By Judith Edersheim, Gene Beresin, and Steve Schlozman | September 19, 2013 | PBS’s “Brains on Trial” Science Blog 

Parents of adolescents have long recognized that teenagers have serious difficulties controlling their behaviors, following rules, and avoiding risky situations. In recent years, neuroscience has been able to provide empirical support to this postulate by identifying neural patterns in adolescents that differ from those of adults. However, incorporation of this common and scientifically-supported knowledge to legal questions has been difficult. The courts have began to recognize that maturity is an important facet to consider when deliberating about individual responsibility as it relates to adolescent.

It is also important to acknowledge that maturity is but one aspect that can impact adolescent behaviors. Additionally, experts advocate consideration of family issues, substance abuse, trauma history, academic performance, and other individual and social factors in making determinations about a teenager’s degree of responsibility. Furthermore, as with adults, some of the most important interventions will be those that can offer preventative services and proper treatment of psychiatric problems.

Read the full post on the Brains On Trial website, where you can also find other Neurolaw resources and explore interviews with experts filmed for the show.

Mental Illness and Society: Prisons, Rehabilitation, and Prevention

By Gene Beresin and Steve Schlozman | September 18, 2013 | from PBS’s “Brains On Trial” Science Blog

Over the last 25 years, funding for mental health services in communities, juvenile detention centers, and in prisons has been cut back dramatically. Criminal behavior without question costs more to society than does treating psychiatric illness. Mental health treatment is effective and essential to a sane and modern society, and yet there is deplorable lack of funding or access to these services for huge swaths of our juvenile population.

Continue reading »

Watch: Judy Edersheim discusses “American Violence: The Absence of Empathy?”

Events of this week in the Washington Navy Yard, where Aaron Alexis apparently killed 13 people, remind us of the frightening and complex relationship between mental health and violence.  Alexis had apparently sought and received treatment for psychotic symptoms, including paranoia and auditory hallucinations, as recently as August.  These reports are sure to bring up questions about his culpability for the alleged offenses, especially if it can be shown by his defense team that a profound disorder of thought contributed to his actions.

And yet, the link between mental illness and acts of severe violence is tenuous at best. Here, in a 12 minute talk from our January 2013 symposium on “Empathy: The Development and Disintegration of Human Connection”, CLBB Co-Director Judy Edersheim is clear to point out that the best predictor of increase in homicide rates is not mental health-related but rather social dislocation, income inequality, and the absence of social capital. Most crimes are not committed by the kind of high-profile mass shooters we see, so to conceive of crime as only a product of lack of empathy or of mental illness is a mistake.


International Neuroethics Society to meet at SfN 2013 in San Diego

This year, the International Neuroethics Society (INS) will hold their annual meeting on Friday, November 8th, in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, which will be held in San Diego, California.

“The field of ethics is continually having to evolve to keep up with the rapid pace of scientific discovery. This meeting brings together all the players to share leading innovations and hear first-hand where neuroethics is headed next,” said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, CLBB faculty member and this year’s INS President.

The one-day meeting will include three sessions to address questions like “Can we create a morality pill?”, “Should we trust Brain-Computer Interfaces to help us make end of life decisions?”, and “Can neuroscience help us distinguish between criminality and rehabilitation potential?”.

See the entire program and register for the meeting at their website.