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.

Free Will and Punishment: A Mechanistic View of Human Nature Reduces Retribution

By Azim F. Shariff, Joshua D. Greene, Johan C. Karremans, Jamie B. Luguri, Cory J. Clark, Jonathan W. Schooler, Roy F. Baumeister & Kathleen D. Vohs | Psychological Science | August 2014


If free-will beliefs support attributions of moral responsibility, then reducing these beliefs should make people less retributive in their attitudes about punishment. Four studies tested this prediction using both measured and manipulated free-will beliefs. Study 1 found that people with weaker free-will beliefs endorsed less retributive, but not consequentialist, attitudes regarding punishment of criminals. Subsequent studies showed that learning about the neural bases of human behavior, through either lab-based manipulations or attendance at an undergraduate neuroscience course, reduced people’s support for retributive punishment (Studies 2–4). These results illustrate that exposure to debates about free will and to scientific research on the neural basis of behavior may have consequences for attributions of moral responsibility.

Read the full paper here.

Why Juvenile Justice Advocates Shouldn’t Ignore Retribution

By John Maki | Juvenile Justice Information Exchange | February 12, 2014

In juvenile justice advocacy, we don’t like to talk about retribution, the principle that people who break the law deserve to be punished in proportion to their offenses.

This is for a good reason. It is not just the fact that it is cruel for the state to hurt kids, even if it is sanctioned by some theory of moral desert. At its core, the juvenile justice system rejects the primacy of this idea.

The founding premise of the juvenile justice system is not to define kids by their past actions and punish them as if they were adults, but to look toward their possible future and how they can develop beyond the worst thing they have done. Continue reading »