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.
During his tenure as CLBB Executive Director, Dr. Francis Shen teamed with CLBB student research assistants to provide the first empirical analysis of how courts are receiving arguments favoring raising the age above 18 for Eighth Amendment constitutional protections.
In Fall 2021, law students at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL) under the direction of Professor Stevie Leahy began investigation into the current state of law and public policy regarding the sentencing of juvenile offenders across the United States. This investigation was prompted by the Spring 2021 decision by the US Supreme Court in Jones v. Mississippi. Many experts consider Jones to signal the end of increasing 8th Amendment protections for juveniles under a series of cases since 2005. In its wake, Jones will now leave the requirements of juvenile sentencing to the discretion of individual courts and/or legislatures. The NUSL students (known as Law Office 7) completed this project in March 2022 and released their analysis and recommendations as Juvenile (in) Justice: The Role of Science and Advocacy in Juvenile Justice Post-Jones. CLBB served as a partner organization for this project, which coincided with their publication of a detailed whitepaper aligning scientific research with prior factors considered by courts in juvenile sentencing. CLBB Executive Director Dr. Robert Kinscherff and Affiliated Faculty Judge Jay Blitzman (ret.) consulted with the students, with Judge Blitzman bringing his nationally recognized expertise in this area. Armand Coleman, Executive Director at the Transformational Prison Project, also provided his guidance and expertise to the students. The research by Law Office 7 confirms that a lack of clarity and specific requirements within juvenile sentencing decisions increases disparities in “justice by geography” when it comes to sentencing outcomes.
In September of 2020, the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital convened a virtual Neuroscience Summit with legal scholars and attorneys, neuroscientists, physicians and psychologists from multiple specialties, and members of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. The Summit’s focus was: The science of emerging adulthood: What do we know and how might this knowledge be appropriately applied in the law?
The impetus for the Summit was a series of landmark United States Supreme Court decisions between 2005 – 2016 in which the Court clarified that the developmental immaturity of youth who committed crimes under age 18 offered them protection under the Eighth Amendment that bars their execution, life sentences without possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes, and imposition of mandatory life without possibility of parole for homicides. Further litigation of the reach of Eighth Amendment protections for juveniles was anticipated and, in fact, the Supreme Court issued another decision bearing upon what procedures are required in sentencing juveniles for capital offenses in April 2021 in Jones v. Mississippi.
In this line of cases, the U.S. Supreme Court increasingly relied upon developmental neuroscience and related areas of developmental social sciences. The Court also relied upon developmental sciences in ruling in JDB. v. North Carolina (2011) that a youth’s age must be a factor considered in determining their capacity to waive their Miranda rights when interrogated by police. These cases sparked litigation in state and federal courts about whether Eighth Amendment protections afforded youth under age 18 should be extended to older adolescents and emerging young adults. As a result, State legislatures have also begun to consider extending juvenile court jurisdiction or the age of full criminal culpability beyond age 18. Further, State juvenile justice and correctional authorities have begun considering reforms to better align responses developmentally in preventing or responding to misconduct by adolescents and emerging adults.
These litigated cases and policy initiatives could signal a sea-change in how we attempt to support positive youth development, prevent youthful crime, and foster rehabilitation and community safety when crimes are committed. However, the success of science- based law and policy initiatives remains uncertain and hotly contested.
It is into this complex and dynamic context that CLBB releases the White Paper on the Science of Late Adolescence: A Guide for Judges, Attorneys, and Policy Makers. This White Paper is the product of the Neuroscience Summit and intensive multidisciplinary collaboration over the months since the Summit. We anticipate that it will have significant and enduring impact nationally in shaping litigation, legislation, and practice across multiple professions and systems that interact with juveniles, late adolescents, and emerging adults.
We hope that you find it helpful in your own thinking about the role of developmental neuroscience and related developmental research in fostering positive outcomes for our young persons, their families, and our communities. As importantly, we hope that it provides information that can support science-based policies, practices, reforms, and innovations which you and others will devise and implement.
By N. S. Corral-Frías, D. A. Pizzagalli, J. M. Carré, L. J. Michalski, Y. S. Nikolova, R. H. Perlis, J. Fagerness, M. R. Lee, E. Drabant Conley, T. M. Lancaster, S. Haddad, A. Wolf, J. W. Smoller, A. R. Hariri, and R. Bogdan | Genes, Brain, and Behavior | June 1, 2016
Identifying mechanisms through which individual differences in reward learning emerge offers an opportunity to understand both a fundamental form of adaptive responding as well as etiological pathways through which aberrant reward learning may contribute to maladaptive behaviors and psychopathology. One candidate mechanism through which individual differences in reward learning may emerge is variability in dopaminergic reinforcement signaling. A common functional polymorphism within the catechol-O-methyl transferase gene (COMT; rs4680, Val158Met) has been linked to reward learning, where homozygosity for the Met allele (linked to heightened prefrontal dopamine function and decreased dopamine synthesis in the midbrain) has been associated with relatively increased reward learning. Here, we used a probabilistic reward learning task to asses response bias, a behavioral form of reward learning, across three separate samples that were combined for analyses (age: 21.80 ± 3.95; n = 392; 268 female; European-American: n = 208). We replicate prior reports that COMTrs4680 Met allele homozygosity is associated with increased reward learning in European-American participants (β = 0.20, t = 2.75, P < 0.01; ΔR2 = 0.04). Moreover, a meta-analysis of 4 studies, including the current one, confirmed the association between COMT rs4680 genotype and reward learning (95% CI −0.11 to −0.03; z = 3.2; P < 0.01). These results suggest that variability in dopamine signaling associated withCOMT rs4680 influences individual differences in reward which may potentially contribute to psychopathology characterized by reward dysfunction.
In recent years, several studies have indicated that healthy older adults exhibit a reduction in mind-wandering compared with young adults. However, relatively little research has examined the extent to which ongoing thoughts in young and older adults are dependent on environmental stimuli. In the current study, we assessed age-related differences in frequency of stimulus-dependent thoughts (SDTs) and stimulus-independent thoughts (SITs) during a slow-paced incidental encoding task. Based on previous research suggesting that older adults rely on external information to a greater extent than young adults, we hypothesized that ongoing thoughts in older adults may be more stimulus-dependent than in young adults. We found that although older adults reported overall fewer thoughts compared to young adults, they exhibited a reduction in proportion of SITs and an increase in proportion of SDTs. In both age groups, SDTs were more frequently about the past compared with SITs, while SITs were more frequently about the future. Finally, the extent to which both young and older adults reported SDTs, but not SITs, at encoding was positively correlated with how often they reported remembering thoughts at retrieval, and SDT frequency was positively correlated with overall performance on the memory task in older adults. Our results provide evidence that ongoing thoughts in older adults may be more dependent on environmental stimuli than young adults, and that these thoughts may impact performance in recognition tasks.