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.

Lisa Feldman Barrett on “how your brain decides without you”

CLBB faculty Lisa Feldman Barrett was quoted in the science magazine Nautilus’ issue on Illusions. In light of the classic duck-rabbit illusion, Barrett posited that the brain is an “inference generating organ” which, in real life, fills in the details of ambiguous sensory input to generate understandings about the world. From the article:

When I put the question of whether we were living in a kind of metaphorical duck-rabbit world to Lisa Feldman Barrett, who heads the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory at Northeastern University, her answer was quick: “I don’t even think it’s necessarily metaphorical.” The structure of the brain, she notes, is such that there are many more intrinsic connections between neurons than there are connections that bring sensory information from the world. From that incomplete picture, she says, the brain is “filling in the details, making sense out of ambiguous sensory input.” The brain, she says, is an “inference generating organ.” She describes an increasingly well-supported working hypothesis called predictive coding, according to which perceptions are driven by your own brain and corrected by input from the world. There would otherwise simple be too much sensory input to take in. “It’s not efficient,” she says. “The brain has to find other ways to work.” So it constantly predicts. When “the sensory information that comes in does not match your prediction,” she says, “you either change your prediction—or you change the sensory information that you receive.”

Read the full piece from Nautilus, “How your brain decides without you,” by Tom Vanderbilt, published November 6, 2014.

Snake in the grass

By Daniel N. Jones | Aeon Magazine | October 20, 2014

It’s the friend who betrays you, the lover living a secret life, the job applicant with the fabricated résumé, or the sham sales pitch too good to resist. From the time humans learnt to co‑operate, we also learnt to deceive each other. For deception to be effective, individuals must hide their true intentions. But deception is hardly limited to humans. There is a never-ending arms race between the deceiver and the deceived among most living things. By studying different patterns of deception across the species, we can learn to better defend ourselves from dishonesty in the human world. Continue reading »

How to build trust and fight tribalism to stimulate innovation

By Conner Forrest | TechRepublic | October 2, 2014

The concept of tribalism, i.e. loyalty and dedication to one’s group or “tribe,” is evident, to some degree, in every part of daily life. In professional organizations, we often refer to these tribes as silos, and conversations and relations among these silos are often tense.

At the 14th annual IdeaFestival in Louisville, Kentucky Joshua D. Greene, psychology professor and director of the Moral Cognition Lab at Harvard University, gave a presentation called “Us/Them,” breaking down why it is difficult to encourage cooperation between groups or tribes and offering some ways to get past it.

Greene opened by explaining the economics theory of the Tragedy of the Commons, which states that in certain situations when everybody does what’s best for themselves, it leaves everyone else worse off. It is the concept of me versus the concept of us.

Even if we agree that we are going to cooperate, there are many open questions about the terms of the cooperation. Greene posed the question of how, in a multi-tribal world, are we going to find rules and systems to get along. Continue reading »

The Other Polygraph

By Virginia Hughes | National Geographic Phenomena: Only Human | September 30, 2014

You’ve no doubt heard about the polygraph and its use as a lie detector. The homely box records physiological changes — such as heart rate and electrical skin conductance — that are indirect signatures of emotion. Because these biomarkers tend to change when people tell lies, criminal investigators have long used the polygraph as a crude tool for detecting deception.

But there’s a huge problem with the polygraph: it’s all-too-frequently wrong. Truth-tellers may show a strong physiological response to being questioned if they’re nervous or fearful, which they often are — particularly if the target of a hostile interrogation.

“You end up with a lot of false positives,” says John Meixner, a law clerk to Chief Judge Gerald Rosen of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The traditional polygraph suffers not only from false positives, but missed positives: With a bit of training, liars can pass the test by intentionally turning down their emotions. Continue reading »

Promises, promises for neuroscience and law

By Joshua Buckholtz and David Faigman | Current Biology | September 2014


Stunning technical advances in the ability to image the human brain have provoked excited speculation about the application of neuroscience to other fields. The ‘promise’ of neuroscience for law has been touted with particular enthusiasm. Here, we contend that this promise elides fundamental conceptual issues that limit the usefulness of neuroscience for law. Recommendations for overcoming these challenges are offered.

Read the full paper here.