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.

Mass. House OKs parole for juvenile killers

By Laura Crimaldi and Travis Andersen | The Boston Globe | June 18, 2014

The state House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would make juveniles convicted in Massachusetts of first-degree murder eligible for parole after serving between 20 and 30 years of their sentence.

The measure, which now goes to the state Senate, passed by a margin of 128-16, according to House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s office.

“As public servants our most pressing responsibility is ensuring the safety of the public,” DeLeo said in a statement Wednesday. “Following state and federal court actions, the House felt it was necessary to create a strong framework for protecting our residents while accounting for the special circumstances associated with juvenile offenders. I am grateful for the input from the many committed organizations, families and legislators who helped craft this fair and balanced bill.” Continue reading »

I don’t feel your pain

By Ruth Graham | The Boston Globe | June 15, 2014

If you stopped the average person in an emergency room and asked why she’s there—not just her guess at the problem, but what really motivated her to show up—the number one answer would be “pain.”

Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from migraines; African-Americans were 1.4 times as likely as whites to report recent pain that interfered with their lives; both white and black test subjects rate blacks’ pain as less intense than whites; women are up to 25 percent less likely than men to receive opiod painkillers when they come to the ER with acute abdominal pain.

Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from migraines; African-Americans were 1.4 times as likely as whites to report recent pain that interfered with their lives; both white and black test subjects rate blacks’ pain as less intense than whites; women are up to 25 percent less likely than men to receive opiod painkillers when they come to the ER with acute abdominal pain.

For all that modern medicine has learned about disease and treatment, it’s alleviating pain that still lies at the heart of the profession. And in recent years, the notion of treating “pain” as its own entity has been rising to the forefront in medicine. Pain management now has its own journals, conferences, clinics, and specialists, and pain relief is sometimes referred to as a human right. The Institute of Medicine reports there are more than 100 million chronic pain sufferers in the United States, and others have estimated the problem costs $60 billion a year in lost productivity. In September, a coalition that includes the FDA, the CDC, and the NIH is expected to release a long-awaited “National Pain Strategy.”

But as pain rises on the agenda for clinicians and patients, research is uncovering some unsettling facts about how it really affects people. First, not everyone experiences pain similarly. In experiments, women and black people have frequently shown lower pain tolerance when asked to do things like hold their hands in ice water. Gender differences in pain prevalence and intensity emerge in adolescence, and for reasons not fully understood, women are particularly vulnerable to conditions including migraines, back pain, and fibromyalgia. Low-income Americans, too, are more likely to suffer pain than their high-income peers: They are likelier to be engaged in manual labor, to eat poorly, and to go to the doctor less often, to name just a few causes. Among pain patients, blacks and Hispanics are likelier to report their pain is severe. Continue reading »

Board Approves Parole for Man Convicted as Juvenile

Boston Magazine | Steve Annear | June 5, 2014

The Massachusetts Parole Board announced Thursday that Frederick Christian, who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole as a juvenile, is eligible for release.

Christian, who was convicted in 1998 for his role in the murder of two men during an armed robbery in Brockton, is the first inmate scheduled to be released from the custody of the Department of Corrections as a result of recent decisions from both the Supreme Court and the state Supreme Court.

“After careful consideration of all relevant facts, including the nature of the underlying offense, the age of the inmate at the time of the crime, criminal record, institutional record, the inmate’s testimony at the hearing, and the views of the public as expressed at the hearing or in writing, we conclude by unanimous vote that the inmate is a suitable candidate for parole,” according to parole officials’ findings. Continue reading »

Scammers take aim at aging population

Elder financial abuse
Researchers analyzed media reports from April through June 2010, and pinpointed 314 unduplicated reports of elder financial abuse that included detailed information. Source Metlife Study on Elder Financial Abuse. Credit: James Abundis, Boston Globe.

By Kay Lazar | The Boston Globe | January 6, 2014

Roughly 21,000 times last year, physicians, social workers, family members, and other concerned residents contacted Massachusetts Protective Services authorities to report suspicions that an elderly person was being abused.

In about one third of those cases, the concern involved financial exploitation, according to state officials, a problem that is expected to grow significantly as the population ages and the number of older adults left vulnerable by Alzheimer’s disease nationwide is projected to double, and perhaps triple, by 2050.

With a potential tsunami of elder financial abuse on the horizon, researchers, health care leaders, lawyers, and lawmakers have launched a number of initiatives to better understand the size and scope of the issue and craft strategies to minimize harm. Continue reading »

The Emoticon on Your Face

By Courtney Humphries | The Boston Globe | February 21, 2012

What’s in a face? We generally see it as a window into our inner lives — so much so that it’s possible to read our emotions from our facial expressions. And in recent decades, we have become enchanted by the notion that with a little specialized knowledge, we can read these feelings very, very accurately. A program launched at Logan Airport last year has trained security personnel to converse with passengers while scanning their facial movements for suspicious emotions. Companies like Affectiva, a spinoff of MIT’s Media Lab, are developing ways to automatically judge a person’s mood in part by observing the movements of facial muscles. And the recent TV show “Lie To Me” was built on the premise that its main character could read hidden meanings in facial expressions and body language.

The premise that you need only the proper training to read emotion on our faces rests on a long history of research into the origins and function of facial expressions. Based on numerous studies, specialists have come to believe that these expressions of feeling are basic, automatic, and universal. Sadness, happiness, anger, and disgust are common to all humans, they have posited, and are expressed and recognized in a common way. Call it the emoticon theory of facial expression: Surely anyone can distinguish from 🙂 from (:.

But a number of psychologists are now arguing that this established view oversimplifies how people express and perceive emotions. They say that scientists have ignored equally compelling research over the years showing that context and culture affect how we interpret facial expressions, and that we don’t produce them in clearly readable ways. In sum, these researchers are suggesting that happy and sad expressions are not basic, evolutionary responses that take the same form all over the world, but cultural categories that we create from a much more complex emotional reservoir.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University, is one of this growing group of scientists calling for a more nuanced view of the relationship between face and feelings. She argues that while we may carry an archetype of each expression in our minds, in reality we make facial expressions less consistently, and our ability to recognize emotions is not as simple as just reading faces. “It’s not like there’s one signal for anger,” she says. “Yet we feel it and perceive it in others. How can that be?” She believes that recent research shows the answer depends, much more than we’ve come to believe, on context, culture, and the details of the situation. And in trying to force facial expressions into a series of archetypes, science may be missing the full picture: an emotional spectrum that isn’t easily parsed into emoticons. Continue reading »