Law & Neuroscience: What, Why, and Where to Begin
MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, August 2016
3 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2017
Date Written: 2016
A surprisingly large number of legal issues involve questions about how well a given person’s brain functions - and what that brain was actually doing at some legally relevant moment in the past. The criminal justice system, for instance, must often identify a defendant’s mental state at the time of a prohibited act, or determine whether a brain abnormality suggests diminished responsibility. And civil litigation may raise questions, for example, about a person’s competence to contract, extent of brain injuries, or eligibility for mental disability benefits.
Because new neuroscientific technologies that investigate brain structure and function may help to answer these questions, judges, lawyers, and jurors are increasingly encountering neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom. At the same time, the potential benefits come with risks of premature and inappropriate applications.
Consequently, the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience has prepared this two-page knowledge brief to help ensure that neuroscientific evidence is properly understood and evaluated so that it in turn may aid, rather than potentially mislead or hinder, the administration of justice. This knowledge brief enables judges, attorneys, policymakers, and students to get a quick grasp on what they need to know about the use - and misuse - of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom.
Keywords: brain, brain imaging, neuroscience, law and neuroscience, neurolaw, neuroimaging, cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, responsibility, culpability, mens rea, punishment, crime
JEL Classification: K14, K40, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation