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.

Decision-making, explained?

Decision making and memory are lynchpins of human behavior and cognition.  And the emerging science of the failures of decision making and memory is becoming increasingly relevant for discussions of public policy and the criminal justice system.

“We don’t know much, but we know a few things that can be put to use,” Kahneman said.

In a talk Tuesday at Harvard Business School, psychologist and Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman sat down with Harvard Law Professor and decision scholar Cass Sunstein to discuss Kahnemann’s research into how the mind processes information, the distinction between experience and memory, and it’s role in shaping the field of behavioral economics.  Colleen Walsh, staff writer for the Harvard Gazette, reported:

While Kahneman said he initially thought that determining “whether people were happy in their life is more important than how happy they are when they think about their life,” he later changed his mind based on an understanding of how people plan for the future.

“In a way, when you think about the future you are maximizing the qualities of your anticipated memories. If this is true, it’s absurd to have a conception of well-being which has nothing to do with what people are actually trying to achieve.”

During a question-and-answer session, one member of the audience wondered if it is premature to use what are sometimes considered “primitive” behavioral findings in shaping public policy. (In recent years, several countries, including the United States, have created behavioral insights teams to help their governments design better policy.)

“We don’t know much, but we know a few things that can be put to use,” Kahneman said.

See the full article in the Harvard Gazette here. By Colleen Walsh, February 5, 2014.

CLBB Highlighted by MGH Department of Psychiatry

The Center for Law, Brain and Behavior is featured on the front page of this summer’s Mindscapes, a newsletter published by the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry.

The article looks at CLBB’s roots, leadership, current projects, and mission. “Bruce [Price] and I saw that brain science was being imported prematurely into the courtroom, and that the cause-and-effect conclusions being reached were not supported by the current evidence. We found this very disturbing,” CLBB co-director Judith Edersheim told Mindscapes. “Junk science only furthers public confusion, despair and injustice.”

CLBB’s principal goal, the article reports, “is to address this problem by offering evidence-based and relevant translations of neuroscience in the legal arena.” This means first determining, through close contact with the legal community, what is relevant, and then responsibly translating scientific findings with those stakeholders in mind.

“We’re looking to impact legal and public policy,” said co-director Bruce Price“Ultimately, our success will hinge on answering the question, ‘Can science help address some of the huge legal issues of the day and add value to the behavioral questions in the courtroom?’ ” co-director Bruce Price said. “We believe strongly that it can.”

Read the full article in MINDSCAPES.

European Association for Neuroscience and Law Hosting Inaugural Annual Meeting

The European Association for Neuroscience and Law (EANL) will hold its first annual meeting in Bonn, Germany, next month, on September 9 and 10. Officially established after in Milan after two years of preliminary work, the association comprises jurists, neuroscientists, philosophers, neuroethicists and media representatives hailing from leading European and U.S. universities and organizations. Their aim, according to judge Amedeo Santosuosso, director of ECTL (European Center for Law Science and new Technologies ) at the University of Pavia (Italy) and President of the EANL steering committee, is to “explore from a theoretical point of view all the critical aspects of the interaction between the outcomes of brain research, the new technologies and the courts.” The EANL is also working to collect and analyze available law cases in Europe and U.S.A., as well as their outcomes.

Learn more about EANL. 


Recommended Resource: Law and Neuroscience Bibliography

The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University has been steadily building a bibliography of important articles, book chapters, edited volumes and other publications by scholars in law and other disciplines as part of its mission to serve as a resource for the law and neuroscience scholarly community.

The bibliography has surpassed one thousand entries and is still growing. Abstracts are provided where available, and some works are linked. It can be accessed on the organization’s website. Information about the resource is available here.

Steven Hyman to Speak on Neuroscience and the Law at AAAS

CLBB faculty Steven Hyman will speak on a panel titled “Neuroscience and the Law” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in New York on April 25, as part of their “Neuroscience and Society” Series.

The event will discuss the ways in which neuroscience is entering the courtroom; what neuroscience can and cannot tell us about human behavior; and the challenges this emerging knowledge poses for the trier of fact.

Fellow panelists include:

– Alan I. Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Executive Publisher of the journal Science since December 2001 

– Owen Jones, J.D., who serves as Director of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University, with a joint appointment as well as holding the New York Alumni Chancellor’s Chair in Law at Vanderbilt University, where he has a joint appointment as Professor of Biological Sciences.

– Judge Barbara Rothstein, a visiting U.S. District Judge from the Western District of Washington and former Director of the Federal Judicial Center in Washington, D.C. from 2003-2011.

Hyman is director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of Harvard University and MIT and a Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard.

Read more about the panelists and event.