Posts tagged neurolaw

Our legal system is built on a dualist view of the mind-body relationship that has served it well for centuries. Science has done little to disrupt that until now. But neuroscience is different. By directly addressing the mechanisms of the human mind, it has the potential to adjudicate on issues of capacity and intent. With a greater understanding of impairments to consciousness, we might be able to take greater control over our actions, bootstrapping ourselves up from the irrational, haphazard behaviour traditionally associated with automata. Far from eroding a sense of free will, neuroscience may allow us to inject more responsibility than ever before into our waking lives.
A biological basis for pedophilia?

So just a few months ago, the Washington Times ran an article about the strong stance the American Psychiatric Association was taking regarding pedophilia, and not accepting it as a sexual orientation. This lead the APA to differentiate between pedophilia and pedophiliac disorder, mainly based on: preference/consummation vs compulsion/consummation. This really just gets at coding a different DSM diagnosis for the degree of impulse inhibition one may have over their actions, rather than thoughts and desires. 
A more recent article highlights neuroscientific findings contrary to this, that are generally upsetting to most, but might encourage us to think about how to ethically, legally or medically deal with individuals who are aware they are attracted to children, but do not want to act on it…as well as those who do act and what to do with them. 

The evidence suggests pedophilia results from atypical wiring in the brain. Cantor calls it “cross-wiring”: the stimuli that usually evoke nurturing and protective reactions in adults is instead evoking sexual reactions in pedophiles.




Similar experiments are being conducted across the globe, most notably at Berlin’s Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine, but Cantor’s research has greatly influenced the view among researchers that pedophilia has a biological basis.
[T]he idea that pedophiles are born, not made, can be used to support opposing political views — some will say “lock ’em up and throw away the key,” while others will call for sympathy and therapy. (via)

Side bar: The US makes it nearly impossible to get preemptive help before an act is committed, due to mandatory reporting laws for therapists. Because of this, support groups are springing up online.  Remember, just because there may be a biological basis, it’s not a way to excuse behavior, but it could mitigate punishment. These things tend to be about understanding the condition, prevention and treatment… as well as punishment for criminal actions. 

Last note: our lab is now analyzing millions of sex crimes across the country to see just how effective & successful sex offender regulations have been over-time, in a way that’s never been done before. I’ll get to link up our data and talk about this soon, but I always like to hear what you guys think.

A biological basis for pedophilia?

So just a few months ago, the Washington Times ran an article about the strong stance the American Psychiatric Association was taking regarding pedophilia, and not accepting it as a sexual orientation. This lead the APA to differentiate between pedophilia and pedophiliac disorder, mainly based on: preference/consummation vs compulsion/consummation. This really just gets at coding a different DSM diagnosis for the degree of impulse inhibition one may have over their actions, rather than thoughts and desires. 

A more recent article highlights neuroscientific findings contrary to this, that are generally upsetting to most, but might encourage us to think about how to ethically, legally or medically deal with individuals who are aware they are attracted to children, but do not want to act on it…as well as those who do act and what to do with them. 

The evidence suggests pedophilia results from atypical wiring in the brain. Cantor calls it “cross-wiring”: the stimuli that usually evoke nurturing and protective reactions in adults is instead evoking sexual reactions in pedophiles.

Similar experiments are being conducted across the globe, most notably at Berlin’s Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine, but Cantor’s research has greatly influenced the view among researchers that pedophilia has a biological basis.

[T]he idea that pedophiles are born, not made, can be used to support opposing political views — some will say “lock ’em up and throw away the key,” while others will call for sympathy and therapy. (via)

Side bar: The US makes it nearly impossible to get preemptive help before an act is committed, due to mandatory reporting laws for therapists. Because of this, support groups are springing up online.  Remember, just because there may be a biological basis, it’s not a way to excuse behavior, but it could mitigate punishment. These things tend to be about understanding the condition, prevention and treatment… as well as punishment for criminal actions. 
Last note: our lab is now analyzing millions of sex crimes across the country to see just how effective & successful sex offender regulations have been over-time, in a way that’s never been done before. I’ll get to link up our data and talk about this soon, but I always like to hear what you guys think.

Neuroscience Is Getting Its Day in Court, Whether It's Ready or Not - Wired Science

Decent article quickly hitting a few main points and also mentioning the more well executed ‘fmri in court’ studies (i.e., The Seductive allure of the “Seductive Allure”). Worth a read, I’ll be in lab.

This article examines and refutes the claims that neuroscientific evidence renders autonomy “quixotic” and thus supports a shift toward paternalism in medical and political decision-making. The author argues that the notion of autonomy has been mistakenly associated with the metaphysical concept of free will, and offers a political definition of autonomy to clarify how responsibility is implicitly grounded in the legal and political system: An agent acts autonomously when she/he (a) endorses decisions and acts in accord with internal motivational states, (b) shows commitment to them in the absence of undue coercion and compulsion, and (c) could as a reasonable and rational person continue to do so after a period of informed critical reflection. The author further argues that neuroscientific findings confirm the assumption that humans are fundamentally fallible social creatures and explain the mechanisms of openness to the social world, which can be and sometimes are abused. A naturalistic framework does not dispute autonomy or rights, but it does point toward means of manipulation and toward areas in which further legal protection of rights and autonomous choice is needed. The author concludes by clarifying the ideal-typical degrees of coercion (indirect, direct and total) and compulsion (mild, severe and total) that serve the purpose of qualifying reduction of autonomy and responsibility in certain cases, and elaborating the middle-ground position between the “moral” and “brain disease” model of addiction.
Autonomy in Neuroethics: Political and Not Metaphysical. I tell ya, if we do hammer this thing out, and we must…it will be because we call it something else or change the definition over time so that makes us more comfortable. 

The Functional Anatomy of Impulse Control Disorders

Impulsive–compulsive disorders such as pathological gambling, hypersexuality, compulsive eating, and shopping are side effects of the dopaminergic therapy for Parkinson’s disease. With a lower prevalence, these disorders also appear in the general population. Research in the last few years has discovered that these pathological behaviors share features similar to those of substance use disorders (SUD), which has led to the term “behavioral addictions”. As in SUDs, the behaviors are marked by a compulsive drive toward and impaired control over the behavior. Furthermore, animal and medication studies, research in the Parkinson’s disease population, and neuroimaging findings indicate a common neurobiology of addictive behaviors.

If you have to take medication for a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, and as a result experience decreased impulse control, what determines the amount of blameworthiness when you steal, cheat or kill? 

US brain project puts focus on ethics

…memories are surprisingly pliable. In the past few years, researchers have shown that drugs can erase fearful memories or disrupt alcoholic cravings in rodents. Some scientists have even shown that they can introduce rudimentary forms of learning during sleep in humans. Giordano says that dystopian fears of complete human mind control are overblown. But more limited manipulations may not be far off: the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), one of three government partners in the BRAIN Initiative, is working towards ‘memory prosthetic’ devices to help soldiers with brain injuries to regain lost cognitive skills. [via]

…or other manipulations to the brain that control the mind.

US brain project puts focus on ethics

…memories are surprisingly pliable. In the past few years, researchers have shown that drugs can erase fearful memories or disrupt alcoholic cravings in rodents. Some scientists have even shown that they can introduce rudimentary forms of learning during sleep in humans. Giordano says that dystopian fears of complete human mind control are overblown. But more limited manipulations may not be far off: the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), one of three government partners in the BRAIN Initiative, is working towards ‘memory prosthetic’ devices to help soldiers with brain injuries to regain lost cognitive skills. [via]

…or other manipulations to the brain that control the mind.

69 plays

Evil, suffering, and dependent origination

Our world is filled with stories of horrendous crimes and criminals—of rapists and killers, sex traffickers, terrorists, genocidal dictators, sadists, and psychopaths. When faced with such people and what they have done, many in society invoke a powerful explanation: that of evil. Evil people are thought to be divorced from the human condition, morally corrupt or perverse, and, from a Western theistic perspective, acting against the will of God.

Implicit is the notion that some individuals are different from the rest of us: They operate outside the normal bounds of human compassion, and, by virtue of their inhumanity, are able to do horrible things without compunction. They are, in a sense, alien: the antithesis of everyone else.

We generally do not assign a label of evil to people who are not able to stop themselves from doing unacceptable things; in most cosmologies, the conduct of evil requires free will. Yet, independence of action is a complicated notion.

Since we believe that human behavior generally arises from specific causes and influences (a central premise of the behavioral sciences), when is one’s bad behavior actually freely chosen?

For example, a repeated finding in psychology [and developmental neuroscience] is that childhood maltreatment can lead to a variety of later outcomes, many of which are thought to adversely influence human behavior. Although our culture stresses accountability, independence, and free will, the fact that early life can affect later behavior makes it difficult to decide when, and to what extent, the behavior of a previously victimized person is under his or her control. [Abstract: via]

Typical of assumptive questions defensively poised, but not actively pursued, by the law.

“Spanking and Crime Rates”
In an effort to understand increasing & (most recently) decreasing crime rates, researchers look at a wide range of variables that may have effected the shift - like economics, population, new policies, police presence. More recently we are hearing about controversial public health theories or environmental theories that are gaining support. But tonight, we just want to talk about spankins.
Dr. Christian Pfeiffer, over in Germany has found a “correlation between declining rates of children being spanked (or otherwise punished physically) and subsequent decreases in violent crime” and further, that "religiosity leads to more frequent spanking". 

People who as children experienced the “powerlessness” of frequent spankings report a disproportionately greater interest later in life to own guns, Mr Pfeiffer says. They also demand more draconian prison sentences, including the death penalty, for convicted criminals. And they seem more prone to violence themselves. 

There must be a place between beating children and giving them all gold stars, right? Germany & Scandinavia apparently know about it and the data seems to back it up.

Spanking and Crime Rates

In an effort to understand increasing & (most recently) decreasing crime rates, researchers look at a wide range of variables that may have effected the shift - like economics, population, new policies, police presence. More recently we are hearing about controversial public health theories or environmental theories that are gaining support. But tonight, we just want to talk about spankins.

Dr. Christian Pfeiffer, over in Germany has found a “correlation between declining rates of children being spanked (or otherwise punished physically) and subsequent decreases in violent crime” and further, that "religiosity leads to more frequent spanking"

People who as children experienced the “powerlessness” of frequent spankings report a disproportionately greater interest later in life to own guns, Mr Pfeiffer says. They also demand more draconian prison sentences, including the death penalty, for convicted criminals. And they seem more prone to violence themselves. 

There must be a place between beating children and giving them all gold stars, right? Germany & Scandinavia apparently know about it and the data seems to back it up.

The state-appointed experts who evaluated Hill initially said he did not qualify as mentally disabled. But, according to the Atlantic, all of them have since come around to the opposite conclusion.

Still, the state now argues that, “Hill has not met his burden of proving retardation under an onerous state standard; that the doctors’ new diagnoses are flawed; and that, as a matter of law, they come too late anyway to spare Hill,” according to the Atlantic.

Georgia Set To Put To Death Mentally Disabled Man

The amount of power that prosecutors have in areas of mental health decision making is substancial, so much so that they are qualified to argue what is a flawed diagnosis and what isn’t, while still using incorrect terminology - when the experts can’t even agree about the diagnosis. Further, in some states, DA’s are able to administer and score risk assessment tests that effect sentencing details (which I find disturbing). To be fair, making a determination of mental state that is supposed to reflect the mental state at the time of the offense is no light task considering the timing, the ongoing psychological impact of prison and at the same time, the experience of the administer, the improvement of tools over time and additional validity for interpretations. But in light of what can be taken away, over a bit of paper shuffling and pricey expert-witness slap fights…a little more time to evaluate wouldn’t kill the state. It would seem some prosecution offices prefer to reflect back on flawed decisions claiming support by archaic information and rationale that barley fit the bill at the time, rather than take precautions when a discrepancy arises that is also accompanied by new and reliable information.  In other words, saying we did the best we could at the time, is never good enough when you have the chance to correct it now.

My Case Against Einfühlung 
First, I’m with thoughtfulcynic. I’m not a fan of dichotomy when speaking about emotions/behaviors that pepper an entire spectrum. I suppose we can talk about social reluctance to do this another time, but investigating empathy, like other spectrumocities, (n. the state of being on a spectrum. K, I’m making up words, but I think I’ve earned that..I …I just think I’ve earned that.)
…LIKE other spectrumocities, our understanding of it may suffer if not investigated in a manner that allows us to look at multiple facetes under appropriate conditions. I can talk about this now since I’ve changed labs and not longer working under ridiculous oppressive secrecy… but how often are we hearing about the two types of empathy? Or potential 7 models of them? Not enough which leads most to think you have it or you don’t…so thoughtfulcynic hits the nail when she mentions critical thinking. What we have are cognitive and affective empathy or the capacity to perceive others’ thoughts and/or feelings, respectively. I always maintained these are 2 separately dynamic, systems that run via feedback from each other since neurally - they are independent but mutually supportive. As such, what we can have is a full matrix of varying degrees of the total possible experience of empathy at any given time. I never got to test it, but that’s my stamp. Anyhoo, and as a result, what’s driven my work for a while now is what Bloom refers to “being pulled in the wrong direction by empathy”:

This dynamic regularly plays out in the realm of criminal justice. In 1987, Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who had been released on furlough from the Northeastern Correctional Center, in Massachusetts, raped a woman after beating and tying up her fiancé. The furlough program came to be seen as a humiliating mistake on the part of Governor Michael Dukakis, and was used against him by his opponents during his run for President, the following year. Yet the program may have reduced the likelihood of such incidents. In fact, a 1987 report found that the recidivism rate in Massachusetts dropped in the eleven years after the program was introduced, and that convicts who were furloughed before being released were less likely to go on to commit a crime than those who were not. [via]

Obviously, not an isolated event. Altruistic punishment and manipulated empathy over data, tell me how that feels.
H/T@ thoughtfulcynic

My Case Against Einfühlung 

First, I’m with thoughtfulcynic. I’m not a fan of dichotomy when speaking about emotions/behaviors that pepper an entire spectrum. I suppose we can talk about social reluctance to do this another time, but investigating empathy, like other spectrumocities, (n. the state of being on a spectrum. K, I’m making up words, but I think I’ve earned that..I …I just think I’ve earned that.)

…LIKE other spectrumocities, our understanding of it may suffer if not investigated in a manner that allows us to look at multiple facetes under appropriate conditions. I can talk about this now since I’ve changed labs and not longer working under ridiculous oppressive secrecy… but how often are we hearing about the two types of empathy? Or potential 7 models of them? Not enough which leads most to think you have it or you don’t…so thoughtfulcynic hits the nail when she mentions critical thinking. What we have are cognitive and affective empathy or the capacity to perceive others’ thoughts and/or feelings, respectively. I always maintained these are 2 separately dynamic, systems that run via feedback from each other since neurally - they are independent but mutually supportive. As such, what we can have is a full matrix of varying degrees of the total possible experience of empathy at any given time. I never got to test it, but that’s my stamp. Anyhoo, and as a result, what’s driven my work for a while now is what Bloom refers to “being pulled in the wrong direction by empathy”:

This dynamic regularly plays out in the realm of criminal justice. In 1987, Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who had been released on furlough from the Northeastern Correctional Center, in Massachusetts, raped a woman after beating and tying up her fiancé. The furlough program came to be seen as a humiliating mistake on the part of Governor Michael Dukakis, and was used against him by his opponents during his run for President, the following year. Yet the program may have reduced the likelihood of such incidents. In fact, a 1987 report found that the recidivism rate in Massachusetts dropped in the eleven years after the program was introduced, and that convicts who were furloughed before being released were less likely to go on to commit a crime than those who were not. [via]

Obviously, not an isolated event. Altruistic punishment and manipulated empathy over data, tell me how that feels.

H/T@ thoughtfulcynic

Adrian Raine on Neurocriminology for the WSJ

The field of neurocriminology—using neuroscience to understand and prevent crime—is revolutionizing our understanding of what drives “bad” behavior.


If early biological and genetic factors beyond the individual’s control make some people more likely to become violent offenders than others, are these individuals fully blameworthy? And if they are not, how should they be punished?


A more profound understanding of the early biological causes of violence can help us take a more empathetic, understanding and merciful approach toward both the victims of violence and the prisoners themselves. It would be a step forward in a process that should express the highest values of our civilization.

Bonus video of Dr. Raine explaining the fMRI images above. Really glad to see his work out there. And don’t forget I’m trying to get out there too.

Adrian Raine on Neurocriminology for the WSJ

The field of neurocriminology—using neuroscience to understand and prevent crime—is revolutionizing our understanding of what drives “bad” behavior.

If early biological and genetic factors beyond the individual’s control make some people more likely to become violent offenders than others, are these individuals fully blameworthy? And if they are not, how should they be punished?

A more profound understanding of the early biological causes of violence can help us take a more empathetic, understanding and merciful approach toward both the victims of violence and the prisoners themselves. It would be a step forward in a process that should express the highest values of our civilization.

Bonus video of Dr. Raine explaining the fMRI images above. Really glad to see his work out there. And don’t forget I’m trying to get out there too.

Criminal culpability of successful v. unsuccessful psychopaths

The psychological literature now differentiates between two types of psychopath: successful (with little or no criminal record) and unsuccessful (with a criminal record). Recent research indicates that earlier findings of reduced autonomic activity, reduced prefrontal grey matter, and compromised executive activity may only be true of unsuccessful psychopaths. In contrast, successful psychopaths actually show autonomic and executive function that exceeds that of normals, while having no difference in prefrontal volume from normals. We argue that many successful psychopaths are legally responsible for their actions, as they have the executive capacity to choose not to harm (and thus are legally rational). However, many unsuccessful psychopaths have a lack of executive function that should at least partially excuse them from criminal culpability. Although a successful psychopath’s increased executive function may occur in conflict with, rather than in consonance with their increased autonomic activity—producing a cognitive style characterized by selfdeception and articulate-sounding, but unsound reasoning—they may be capable of recognizing and correcting their lack of autonomic data, and thus can be held responsible. [via,img]

Fine tuning the punishment gage based on neural function underlying blameworthiness of specific neurotypes. I suspect we’d like to look at percentages of loss of function then correlate that to treatment, I mean punishment. Almost forgot where I was.

Criminal culpability of successful v. unsuccessful psychopaths

The psychological literature now differentiates between two types of psychopath: successful (with little or no criminal record) and unsuccessful (with a criminal record). Recent research indicates that earlier findings of reduced autonomic activity, reduced prefrontal grey matter, and compromised executive activity may only be true of unsuccessful psychopaths. In contrast, successful psychopaths actually show autonomic and executive function that exceeds that of normals, while having no difference in prefrontal volume from normals. We argue that many successful psychopaths are legally responsible for their actions, as they have the executive capacity to choose not to harm (and thus are legally rational). However, many unsuccessful psychopaths have a lack of executive function that should at least partially excuse them from criminal culpability. Although a successful psychopath’s increased executive function may occur in conflict with, rather than in consonance with their increased autonomic activity—producing a cognitive style characterized by selfdeception and articulate-sounding, but unsound reasoning—they may be capable of recognizing and correcting their lack of autonomic data, and thus can be held responsible. [via,img]

Fine tuning the punishment gage based on neural function underlying blameworthiness of specific neurotypes. I suspect we’d like to look at percentages of loss of function then correlate that to treatment, I mean punishment. Almost forgot where I was.

Brain Scanning for Recidivism
So, we all love the work that neuroscientist Kent Kiehl and his group does involving fMRI and incarcerated offenders, right? He’s the only guy I know out there workin’ the beat, going door to door (prison to prison), uphill both ways, not really. ok really (science drama), with a mobile scanner collecting brain scan data from prisoners. This week, his latest study is all over the place with headlines parading how this technique can predict who will reoffend. And it’s not way off. 
The idea: it’s all about impulsivity. The data links those with low activity in the ACC and poor impulse control…and:

Inmates with relatively low anterior cingulate activity were roughly twice as likely as inmates with high anterior cingulate activity to be rearrested for a felony offense within 4 years of their release, even after controlling for other behavioral and psychological risk factors.

Correlations are cool obvs, since they allow for predictions to be made, but this doen’t imply causality or tell us anything about the underlying factors that spur the relationship. Kiehl tells us this is not where near real world use, but it will be really interesting when the results from his entire group of 3000 inmates is processed, vs the 96 for this study (which is still a lot for fMRI work). We can talk about issues pertaining to beating the scanner then. Soon, we can compare old school nelly forensic psych assessment tools to the scans for risk assessment and seeing how these findings will effect sentencing (does this negate or reinforce mandatories?), probationary proceedings or even program development. I have a feeling a matrix design is coming on.
[via, img: mine]

Brain Scanning for Recidivism

So, we all love the work that neuroscientist Kent Kiehl and his group does involving fMRI and incarcerated offenders, right? He’s the only guy I know out there workin’ the beat, going door to door (prison to prison), uphill both ways, not really. ok really (science drama), with a mobile scanner collecting brain scan data from prisoners. This week, his latest study is all over the place with headlines parading how this technique can predict who will reoffend. And it’s not way off. 

The idea: it’s all about impulsivity. The data links those with low activity in the ACC and poor impulse control…and:

Inmates with relatively low anterior cingulate activity were roughly twice as likely as inmates with high anterior cingulate activity to be rearrested for a felony offense within 4 years of their release, even after controlling for other behavioral and psychological risk factors.

Correlations are cool obvs, since they allow for predictions to be made, but this doen’t imply causality or tell us anything about the underlying factors that spur the relationship. Kiehl tells us this is not where near real world use, but it will be really interesting when the results from his entire group of 3000 inmates is processed, vs the 96 for this study (which is still a lot for fMRI work). We can talk about issues pertaining to beating the scanner then. Soon, we can compare old school nelly forensic psych assessment tools to the scans for risk assessment and seeing how these findings will effect sentencing (does this negate or reinforce mandatories?), probationary proceedings or even program development. I have a feeling a matrix design is coming on.

[via, img: mine]

Neuroimages in court: not as bad as we thought
So what I usually get from the lawyers I corner speak with about using brain scans as evidence, it’s mostly hell to the no, because A) we’d need an expert B) experts are expensive C) client is broke. Another response is jurors won’t get it and it will just complicate things. The consensus is jurors can’t handle a brief fMRI lecture to understand it’s meaning and limitations so they’ll just figure it’s all hard science, self evident to the argument being made and treat it like photographic proof.  dun dun.
Until recently, a couple of really big studies supported this notion and everyone at the cool table got on board. Brain porn in the court became a thing and whispering sexy hard-sciencey neurobabble in your ear is what it did seducing you with its pretty colored blobs. Then it kinda fell into a place like tween technology can, where we can’t trust it running the streets alone without a decent explanation, some background and a curfew. But new research contradicts this concept “prompting a rethinking of the ‘threat’ of neuroscience in the courtroom”. dun dun. (ok I’ll stop.)
The deal is the initial studies didn’t look at the effect of using the images with mock jurors in. a. full. mock. trial. Srsly, methodologies? Anyway, this article (+1 for the multidisciplinary collabo) gives a detailed overview of 3 new studies that are show findings contradictory to the neurolaw safety dance that’s so trendy. No reason for that link except, it’s the only chance it will ever have. …k, moving on.
I’m all for being cautious, but we are tip toeing, slow poking and dumbing down when what we need is just a little explanation, insight and mostly more experiments designed to replicate a real world trial experience. Showing images and peppering it with a scientific summary is like convicting by confession alone without seeing the interrogation. It turns out:

…in experiments with crimes ranging from homicide to unintentional assault, the authors found no evidence that neuroimages influenced jurors’ decisions about criminal liability or sentences. Convictions and punishments were, however, related to the level of perceived control by the defendant, and this was affected by the presence and kind of expert testimony – but not by neuroimages. -Gurley and Marcus

The next study danced a similar jig when looking at the use of neuroimages in an insanity defense, “Gurley and Marcus did not dissociate the effects of the neuroimage from those of the neurological expert testimony. Schweitzer and Saks did, and found no impact of neuroimages over and above the effects of verbal neuroscience testimony.” Further work can go beyond culpability and look at sentencing as well.  
Three recent studies (the 3rd unpublished) have all suggested testimony weighed heavier in juror decision making (exculpatory fashions) than brain scans … and may have me thinking I’ll reopen my expert witness biz. Giddyup.

Neuroimages in court: not as bad as we thought

So what I usually get from the lawyers I corner speak with about using brain scans as evidence, it’s mostly hell to the no, because A) we’d need an expert B) experts are expensive C) client is broke. Another response is jurors won’t get it and it will just complicate things. The consensus is jurors can’t handle a brief fMRI lecture to understand it’s meaning and limitations so they’ll just figure it’s all hard science, self evident to the argument being made and treat it like photographic proof.  dun dun.

Until recently, a couple of really big studies supported this notion and everyone at the cool table got on board. Brain porn in the court became a thing and whispering sexy hard-sciencey neurobabble in your ear is what it did seducing you with its pretty colored blobs. Then it kinda fell into a place like tween technology can, where we can’t trust it running the streets alone without a decent explanation, some background and a curfew. But new research contradicts this concept “prompting a rethinking of the threat’ of neuroscience in the courtroom”. dun dun. (ok I’ll stop.)

The deal is the initial studies didn’t look at the effect of using the images with mock jurors in. a. full. mock. trial. Srsly, methodologies? Anyway, this article (+1 for the multidisciplinary collabo) gives a detailed overview of 3 new studies that are show findings contradictory to the neurolaw safety dance that’s so trendy. No reason for that link except, it’s the only chance it will ever have. …k, moving on.

I’m all for being cautious, but we are tip toeing, slow poking and dumbing down when what we need is just a little explanation, insight and mostly more experiments designed to replicate a real world trial experience. Showing images and peppering it with a scientific summary is like convicting by confession alone without seeing the interrogation. It turns out:

…in experiments with crimes ranging from homicide to unintentional assault, the authors found no evidence that neuroimages influenced jurors’ decisions about criminal liability or sentences. Convictions and punishments were, however, related to the level of perceived control by the defendant, and this was affected by the presence and kind of expert testimony – but not by neuroimages. -Gurley and Marcus

The next study danced a similar jig when looking at the use of neuroimages in an insanity defense, “Gurley and Marcus did not dissociate the effects of the neuroimage from those of the neurological expert testimony. Schweitzer and Saks did, and found no impact of neuroimages over and above the effects of verbal neuroscience testimony.” Further work can go beyond culpability and look at sentencing as well.  

Three recent studies (the 3rd unpublished) have all suggested testimony weighed heavier in juror decision making (exculpatory fashions) than brain scans … and may have me thinking I’ll reopen my expert witness biz. Giddyup.

The Clinical Neuropsychologist previously published a case study about KT, a serial killer who murdered at least 5 people in order to shed light on the still poorly understood “characteristics and scientific markers of serial murdering”. Researchers measured impairment and social/emotional cognitive deficits of KT using a battery of neuro/psych tests. 

KT exhibited a striking dissociation between a high level of emotional detachment and a low score on the antisocial behavior scale on the PCL-R. The MMPI-2 showed a normal pattern with the psychotic triad at borderline level.
KT had a high intelligence score and showed almost no impairment in cognitive tests sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction (Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, Theory of Mind, Tower of London, this latter evidenced a mild impairment in planning performance). 
In the tests on moral, emotional and social cognition, his patterns of response differed from matched controls and from past reports on criminal psychopaths as, unlike these individuals, KT exhibited normal recognition of fear and a relatively intact knowledge of moral rules but he was impaired in the recognition of anger, embarrassment and conventional social rules.   [via: Cognitive, Emotional and Social Markers of Serial Murdering]

The results seem to high5 the spectrum babble that I babble about, probably shouldn’t do that anymore. Science-sigh. Anyway, how glad am I that they specified criminal psychopathy? Glad. What would I have liked to seen added? Empathy task, fMRI testing. Will I be able to shut up about this idea I have that might be not nothing? ugh.

The Clinical Neuropsychologist previously published a case study about KT, a serial killer who murdered at least 5 people in order to shed light on the still poorly understood “characteristics and scientific markers of serial murdering”. Researchers measured impairment and social/emotional cognitive deficits of KT using a battery of neuro/psych tests. 

KT exhibited a striking dissociation between a high level of emotional detachment and a low score on the antisocial behavior scale on the PCL-R. The MMPI-2 showed a normal pattern with the psychotic triad at borderline level.

KT had a high intelligence score and showed almost no impairment in cognitive tests sensitive to frontal lobe dysfunction (Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, Theory of Mind, Tower of London, this latter evidenced a mild impairment in planning performance).

In the tests on moral, emotional and social cognition, his patterns of response differed from matched controls and from past reports on criminal psychopaths as, unlike these individuals, KT exhibited normal recognition of fear and a relatively intact knowledge of moral rules but he was impaired in the recognition of anger, embarrassment and conventional social rules.   [via: Cognitive, Emotional and Social Markers of Serial Murdering]

The results seem to high5 the spectrum babble that I babble about, probably shouldn’t do that anymore. Science-sigh. Anyway, how glad am I that they specified criminal psychopathy? Glad. What would I have liked to seen added? Empathy task, fMRI testing. Will I be able to shut up about this idea I have that might be not nothing? ugh.