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.

Heightened Sensitivity to Emotional Expressions in Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Compared to Social Anxiety Disorder, and Controls

By Eric Bui, Eric Anderson, Elizabeth M. Goetter, Allison A. Campbell, Laura E. Fischer, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Naomi M. Simon | Cognition and Emotion | September 23, 2015


Few studies have examined potential differences between social anxiety disorder (SAD) and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in the sensitivity to detect emotional expressions. The present study aims to compare the detection of emotional expressions in SAD and GAD. Participants with a primary diagnosis of GAD (n = 46), SAD (n = 70), and controls (n = 118) completed a morph movies task. The task presented faces expressing increasing degrees of emotional intensity, slowly changing from a neutral to a full-intensity happy, sad, or angry expressions. Participants used a slide bar to view the movie frames from left to right, and to stop at the first frame where they perceived an emotion. The frame selected thus indicated the intensity of emotion required to identify the facial expression. Participants with GAD detected the onset of facial emotions at lower intensity of emotion than participants with SAD (p = 0.002) and controls (p = 0.039). In a multiple regression analysis controlling for age, race, and depressive symptom severity, lower frame at which the emotion was detected was independently associated and GAD diagnosis (B = –5.73, SE = 1.74, p < 0.01). Our findings suggest that individuals with GAD exhibit enhanced detection of facial emotions compared to those with SAD or controls.

Read the full paper here.

Psychology Is Not in Crisis

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | September 1, 2015

IS psychology in the midst of a research crisis?

An initiative called the Reproducibility Project at the University of Virginia recently reran 100 psychology experiments and found that over 60 percent of them failed to replicate — that is, their findings did not hold up the second time around. The results, published last week in Science, have generated alarm (and in some cases, confirmed suspicions) that the field of psychology is in poor shape.

But the failure to replicate is not a cause for alarm; in fact, it is a normal part of how science works.  Continue reading »

Methodological Recommendations for a Heartbeat Detection-Based Measure of Interoceptive Sensitivity

By Ian R. Kleckner, Jolie Baumann Wormwood, W. Kyle Simmons, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Karen S. Quigley | Psychophysiology | August 12, 2015


Heartbeat detection tasks are often used to measure cardiac interoceptive sensitivity—the ability to detect sensations from one’s heart. However, there is little work to guide decisions on the optimum number of trials to use, which should balance reliability and power against task duration and participant burden. Here, 174 participants completed 100 trials of a widely used heartbeat detection task where participants attempt to detect whether presented tones occurred synchronously or asynchronously with their heartbeats. First, we quantified measurement reliability of the participant’s accuracy derived from differing numbers of trials of the task using a correlation metric; we found that at least 40–60 trials were required to yield sufficient reliability. Next, we quantified power by simulating how the number of trials influenced the ability to detect a correlation between cardiac interoceptive sensitivity and other variables that differ across participants, including a variable measured from our sample (body mass index) as well as simulated variables of varying effect sizes. Using these simulations, we quantified the trade-offs between sample size, effect size, and number of trials in the heartbeat detection task such that a researcher can easily determine any one of these variables at given values of the other two variables. We conclude that using fewer than 40 trials is typically insufficient due to poor reliability and low power in estimating an effect size, although the optimal number of trials can differ by study.

Read the full article here.

What Our Emotions Are (And Aren’t)

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | The New York Times | July 31, 2015

OUR senses appear to show us the world the way it truly is, but they are easily deceived. For example, if you listen to a recorded symphony through stereo speakers that are placed exactly right, the orchestra will sound like it’s inside your head. Obviously that isn’t the case.

But suppose you completely trusted your senses. You might find yourself asking well-meaning but preposterous scientific questions like “Where in the brain is the woodwinds section located?” A more reasonable approach is not to ask a where question but a how question: How does the brain construct this experience of hearing the orchestra in your head?

I have just set the stage to dispel a major misconception about emotions. Most people, including many scientists, believe that emotions are distinct, locatable entities inside us — but they’re not. Searching for emotions in this form is as misguided as looking for cerebral clarinets and oboes.  Continue reading »

WATCH – “Visible Solutions: How Neuroimaging Helps Law Re-envision Pain”

On June 30, 2015, CLBB and the Petrie-Flom Center hosted a public symposium bringing together the leading experts in neuroscience and law to wrestle with the critical question: what can, and should, the law do with what we know about pain and the brain? To answer this, panelists discussed whether brain imaging can be a “pain-o-meter” that tells courts when a person is in pain, if fMRI technologies can help give us a new perspective on intractable chronic pain, and how to understand the intimate relationship between pain and emotion, if there even is such a distinction. Together, experts and audience members explored how the law can use brain science to get smarter about a subject that touches everyone.  Continue reading »