Predicting the Knowledge-Recklessness Distinction in the Human Brain

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016

6 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2017 Last revised: 22 Mar 2017

Iris Vilares

University College London - Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging

Michael Wesley

University of Kentucky - Behavioral Science

Woo-Young Ahn

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Psychology

Richard J. Bonnie

University of Virginia - School of Law

Morris B. Hoffman

Second Judicial District Court Judge, State of Colorado

Owen D. Jones

Vanderbilt University - Law School & Dept. of Biological Sciences

Stephen Morse

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Gideon Yaffe

Yale Law School

Terry Lohrenz

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University - Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute

Read Montague

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University - Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute

Date Written: February 9, 2017

Abstract

Criminal convictions require proof that a prohibited act was performed in a statutorily specified mental state. Different legal consequences, including greater punishments, are mandated for those who act in a state of knowledge, compared with a state of recklessness. Existing research, however, suggests people have trouble classifying defendants as knowing, rather than reckless, even when instructed on the relevant legal criteria.

We used a machine-learning technique on brain imaging data to predict, with high accuracy, which mental state our participants were in. This predictive ability depended on both the magnitude of the risks and the amount of information about those risks possessed by the participants. Our results provide neural evidence of a detectable difference in the mental state of knowledge in contrast to recklessness and suggest, as a proof of principle, the possibility of inferring from brain data in which legally relevant category a person belongs. Some potential legal implications of this result are discussed.

Keywords: law and neuroscience, criminal law, mental state, punishment, crime, blame, culpability, mens rea, Model Penal Code, MPC, knowledge, recklessness, responsibility, intention, brain, brain imaging, brain scan, neuroimaging, neuroscience, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, neurolaw

JEL Classification: K14, K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Vilares, Iris and Wesley, Michael and Ahn, Woo-Young and Bonnie, Richard J. and Hoffman, Morris B. and Jones, Owen D. and Morse, Stephen and Yaffe, Gideon and Lohrenz, Terry and Montague, Read, Predicting the Knowledge-Recklessness Distinction in the Human Brain (February 9, 2017). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2922210

Iris Vilares

University College London - Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging ( email )

London, WC1N 3BG
United Kingdom

Michael Wesley

University of Kentucky - Behavioral Science ( email )

United States

Woo-Young Ahn

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Psychology ( email )

1885 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

Richard J. Bonnie

University of Virginia - School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Morris B. Hoffman

Second Judicial District Court Judge, State of Colorado ( email )

Denver, CO
United States

Owen D. Jones (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School & Dept. of Biological Sciences ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

HOME PAGE: http://law.vanderbilt.edu/bio/owen-jones

Stephen J. Morse

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Gideon Yaffe

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall St
New Haven, CT 06511

Terry Lohrenz

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University - Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute ( email )

2 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA 24016
United States

Read Montague

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University - Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute ( email )

2 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA 24016
United States
540-526-2000 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://research.vtc.vt.edu/employees/read-montague/

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