Monday, March 1, 2010

Neuroscience and the Law

The University of Akron Law School recently held a symposium on Neuroscience and the Law with a keynote speech by Stanford Law Professor Henry Greely.  A video of one of his talks has been posted online, and it is, in a word: EXCELLENT.  Lots of good popular neuroscience stuff explained pretty clearly and succinctly, and then of course, it is very interesting to think about how all of these popular neuroscience findings are going to impact our legal system and our society.  For example, a man who had never exhibited sexually deviant behavior (and reported never having such desires), suddenly found himself unable to control his urges and was ultimately arrested for making advances toward his stepdaughter.  It was later found that he had a brain tumor, which, when removed, rid him of any illicit desires.  How then are we to interpret his guilt or innocence?  Already there exists a precedent for non compos mentis, a.k.a. "the insanity defense". From the Latin, non compos mentis is perhaps better translated as "not of sound mind", which a brain tumor that seems to be at the root of bad behavior could be considered, but is that how a judge or jury would see it?  Numerous other examples abound, like the use of functional MRI or other scans to determine the propensity of individuals to commit violent acts or to tell whether or not they are biased or lying.  While this technology is clearly in its infancy and nowhere near accurate enough to make any such claims, it is interesting to think about what the future might bring, and how we might approach these problems. (P.S. I tried embedding the video here, but it has an autoplay function that I, with my limited HTML knowledge, am unable to override.)

Also, if you are interested, there is another useful and interesting site by the Law and Neuroscience Project that has lots of articles and blog posts and whatnot on a lot of these topics, and then, of course, an older post here on lie detection (polygraphs and MRIs).

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