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.

Leah Somerville wins NSF CAREER Award

Congratulations to CLBB Faculty and Juvenile Justice working group member Leah Somerville, who has been awarded an NSF CAREER award for her work on Psychological and Neurodevelopmental Mechanisms of Social Influence on Adolescent Decision-Making.

Dr. Somerville is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Director of the Affective Neuroscience & Development Lab. The CAREER award is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award to support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

Neural Correlates of Expected Risks and Returns in Risky Choice across Development

Anna C.K. van Duijvenvoorde, Hilde M. Huizenga, Leah H. Somerville, Mauricio R. Delgado, Alisa Powers, Wouter D. Weeda, B.J. Casey, Elke U. Weber, and Bernd Figner | The Journal of Neuroscience | January 28, 2015


Adolescence is often described as a period of increased risk taking relative to both childhood and adulthood. This inflection in risky choice behavior has been attributed to a neurobiological imbalance between earlier developing motivational systems and later developing top-down control regions. Yet few studies have decomposed risky choice to investigate the underlying mechanisms or tracked their differential developmental trajectory. The current study uses a risk–return decomposition to more precisely assess the development of processes underlying risky choice and to link them more directly to specific neural mechanisms. This decomposition specifies the influence of changing risks (outcome variability) and changing returns (expected value) on the choices of children, adolescents, and adults in a dynamic risky choice task, the Columbia Card Task. Behaviorally, risk aversion increased across age groups, with adults uniformly risk averse and adolescents showing substantial individual differences in risk sensitivity, ranging from risk seeking to risk averse. Neurally, we observed an adolescent peak in risk-related activation in the anterior insula and dorsal medial PFC. Return sensitivity, on the other hand, increased monotonically across age groups and was associated with increased activation in the ventral medial PFC and posterior cingulate cortex with age. Our results implicate adolescence as a developmental phase of increased neural risk sensitivity. Importantly, this work shows that using a behaviorally validated decision-making framework allows a precise operationalization of key constructs underlying risky choice that inform the interpretation of results.

Read the full paper here.

April 23-25, 2015 – Social & Affective Neuroscience Society Annual Conference

The Social & Affective Neuroscience Society, which is committed to investigating the neural basis of social and affective process, will hold its 8th annual meeting on April 23-25, 2015 in Boston. This year’s Conference co-chair is Leah Somerville, member of the CLBB Faculty and the CLBB Juvenile Justice working group.

The Conference will be at the Revere Hotel (200 Stuart Street, Boston MA 02116). The conference will kick off with a Keynote Address from Dr. Michael Platt at 5 pm on Thursday, April 23, followed by a poster reception from 6:00 – 7:30 pm. Friday, April 24th and Saturday, April 25th will feature full days of programming, including symposia, posters, blitz talks, an optional lunchtime panel focusing on funding opportunities, and social events for networking.

For more details and to register, visit the SANS site.

Leah Somerville receives McGuigan, Spence awards for early career research

Congratulations to Leah Somerville, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University and CLBB faculty member, who was recently selected to receive two significant awards for early career contributions to psychological research. The research of Somerville and her Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab focuses on understanding the neurodevelopmental contributions to adolescents’ motivated, emotional, and social behavior. Somerville is also an member of the CLBB Juvenile Justice Working Group. Continue reading »

Somerville delivers plenary at national Juvenile Justice Reform Summit

On September 14, 2014, Leah Somerville delivered the plenary at the Juvenile Justice Reform Summit in Northampton, MA. Hosted by the National Center for State Courts in partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Summit sought to educate and engage state court justices and leading administrators from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Somerville’s plenary session was titled “Neuroscience, Adolescent Development, and the Law: Implications for Juvenile Justice Reform.”

Somerville is a psychologist and developmental neuroscientist, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, member of CLBB faculty, and member of the CLBB Juvenile Justice working group.