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

Why More Scientists are Needed in the Public Square

Janet Napolitano is the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, and current president of the University of California system.

By Janet Napolitano | The Conversation | October 13, 2015

In this presidential election season, one thing is certain: candidates will rarely – if ever –

be asked what they would do to keep this nation at the forefront of science and innovation.

That’s a shame.

The public dialogue about science is perhaps the most vital and most fraught national conversation not taking place in our country, and the ramifications are profound.

Ultimately, the way we address science and innovation will determine what our children learn in school, what college graduates bring to the larger world, how public lands and natural resources are cared for and whether people receive adequate health care. And the list goes on.

As the president of one of our country’s leading research university systems, I believe it is now incumbent on the academic community to ensure that the work and voices of researchers are front and center in the public square.

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The Neuroscience of Adolescent Decision-Making

By Catherine A. Hartley and Leah H. Somerville | Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences | October 3, 2015

Abstract:

Adolescence is a phase of lifespan associated with greater independence, and thus greater demands to make self-guided decisions in the face of risks, uncertainty, and varying proximal and distal outcomes. A new wave of developmental research takes a neuroeconomic approach to specify what decision processes are changing during adolescence, along what trajectory they are changing, and what neurodevelopmental processes support these changes. Evidence is mounting to suggest that multiple decision processes are tuned differently in adolescents and adults including reward reactivity, uncertainty-tolerance, delay discounting, and experiential assessments of value and risk. Unique interactions between prefrontal cortical, striatal, and salience processing systems during adolescence both constrain and amplify various component processes of mature decision-making.

Read the full article here.

Severity of Thought Disorder Predicts Psychosis in Persons at Clinical High-Risk

By Diana O. Perkins, Clark D. Jeffries, Barbara A. Cornblatt, Scott W. Woods, Jean Addington, Carrie E. Bearden, Kristin S. Cadenhead, Tyrone D. Cannon, Robert Heinssen, Daniel H. Mathalon, Larry J. Seidman, Ming T. Tsuang, Elaine F. Walker, and Thomas H. McGlashan | Schizophrenia Research | October 2, 2015

Abstract:

Background

Improving predictive accuracy is of paramount importance for early detection and prevention of psychosis. We sought a symptom severity classifier that would improve psychosis risk prediction.

Methods

Subjects were from two cohorts of the North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study. All subjects met Criteria of Psychosis-Risk States. In Cohort-1 (n = 296) we developed a classifier that included those items of the Scale of Psychosis-Risk Symptoms that best distinguished subjects who converted to psychosis from nonconverters, with performance initially validated by randomization tests in Cohort-1. Cohort-2 (n = 592) served as an independent test set.

Results

We derived 2-Item and 4-Item subscales. Both included unusual thought content and suspiciousness; the latter added reduced ideational richness and difficulties with focus/concentration. The Concordance Index (C-Index), a measure of discrimination, was similar for each subscale across cohorts (4-Item subscale Cohort-2: 0.71, 95% CI = [0.64, 0.77], Cohort-1: 0.74, 95% CI = [0.69, 0.80]; 2-Item subscale Cohort-2: 0.68, 95% CI = [0.3, 0.76], Cohort-1: 0.72, 95% CI = [0.66–0.79]). The 4-Item performed better than the 2-Item subscale in 742/1000 random selections of 80% subsets of Cohort-2 subjects (p-value = 1.3E−55). Subscale calibration between cohorts was proportional (higher scores/lower survival), but absolute conversion risk predicted from Cohort-1 was higher than that observed in Cohort-2, reflecting the cohorts’ differences in 2-year conversion rates (Cohort-2: 0.16, 95% CI = [0.13, 0.19]; Cohort-1: 0.30, 95% CI = [0.24, 0.36]).

Conclusion

Severity of unusual thought content, suspiciousness, reduced ideational richness, and difficulty with focus/concentration informed psychosis risk prediction. Scales based on these symptoms may have utility in research and, assuming further validation, eventual clinical applications.

Read the full article here.

Habitual Control of Goal Selection in Humans

By Fiery Cushman and Adam Morris | Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | September 10, 2015

Abstract: 

Humans choose actions based on both habit and planning. Habitual control is computationally frugal but adapts slowly to novel circumstances, whereas planning is computationally expensive but can adapt swiftly. Current research emphasizes the competition between habits and plans for behavioral control, yet many complex tasks instead favor their integration. We consider a hierarchical architecture that exploits the computational efficiency of habitual control to select goals while preserving the flexibility of planning to achieve those goals. We formalize this mechanism in a reinforcement learning setting, illustrate its costs and benefits, and experimentally demonstrate its spontaneous application in a sequential decision-making task.

Read the full article here.

Advancing Use of Risk Assessment in Juvenile Probation

By Laura S. Guy, Gina M. Vincent, Thomas Grisso, and Rachael Perrault | National Criminal Justice Reference Service | September 2015

Abstract:

Juvenile probation officers at three sites in two States (Mississippi and Connecticut) were trained to use the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY; Borum, Bartel & Forth, 2006) and the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-Second Version (MAYSI-2; Grisso & Barnum, 2000, 2006). Also included in the use of these instruments was a decisionmaking model for case planning that integrated information about behavioral health variables and risk for reoffending. A standardized implementation process was used to assist sites in the selection of tools, development of policies, categorization of available services and interventions, as well as the development or modification of existing case plans. Results indicate that probation staff can be trained to complete violence risk assessment using the structured professional judgment approach. This produced a high degree of inter-rater agreement, and case management decisions can take into account a youth’s risk for future offending. The study advises that in order for risk assessment to impact youths’ cases and individual outcomes, risk assessment must occur early in the judicial process. Risk assessment should be conducted before making decisions about disposition, placement, and the services to be provided. It is also recommended that States use a structured, empirically validated approach to risk assessment. A variety of inconsistencies were found in probation staffs’ use of the MAYSI-2, despite efforts to train staff to use this assessment tool. Reasons for this inconsistent use of MAYSI-2 are suggested, and recommendations are offered to address it. Study limitations and future research are discussed.

Read the full study here.