Four Areas of Translation and Discovery

As new neuroscientific findings accrue, so do questions about how best to employ new knowledge in the courtroom. Concentrating on four thematic areas – memory, deception, intent, and competency – CLBB aims to conduct and support continued research, question its legal implications, and foster dialogue between scientific and legal communities.


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 Center’s activities are focused around four broad domains of neurolaw, each selected because of the importance of the questions they attempt to answer and their immediate usefulness to the greater legal community:

As new neuroscientific discoveries are introduced that help answer questions and determine central issues regarding competency, impulsivity and personal responsibility, it will be vital for decision-makers to have scientific and ethical guidelines for applying new technologies to complex legal situations. Whether the issue is as distinctive as determining the competency of a cognitively impaired person to make decisions or as collective as how to interrogate a suspected terrorist, fact-finders need clear and widely accepted guidelines on which technologies or instruments deserve evidentiary weight and which are in the unreliable stages of nascent development. The Center faculty hopes to educate judges, attorneys, guardians and professionals in civil contexts with these scientific and ethical guidelines.

With strong and experienced leadership already in place, and a multidisciplinary faculty in law, neurology, psychiatry and neuroimaging, MGH and the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior are uniquely suited to tackle the development of new neuropsychological instruments, neuroimaging protocols, scientific guidelines and evaluative research that ultimately ensures responsible and scientifically based translations of medical concepts into legal settings.

Program Overview

We have mapped out a methodology for approaching the introduction of concepts about brain function and behavior into the courtroom.  Some guiding principles:

  • Use only sound, reliable and replicable neuroscientific findings in the courtroom.
  • Use only scientific findings that are supported by multiple collateral psychiatric and neurological measures.
  • Be mindful of the historical pattern of overvaluing early scientific evidence in legal settings.
  • Reject premature assertions of cause and effect between brain structures and functions.

Our strategy can be divided into a progressive system of clarification, research, and translation:

While the three domains of “Clarify”, “Research” and “Translate” are depicted as flowing linearly one to the next, this process is of course iterative, with research influencing the legal system, which in turn leads to a new set of questions and future research opportunities.