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Scientific Evidence Resources

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Format: 2020
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This module introduces the neuroscientific evidence underpinning the differences between adolescent and adult brains and how this may inform legal decision-making. Dr. Robert Kinscherff, associate professor in the doctoral program in clinical psychology and associate vice president for community engagement at William James College, talks about ways to gain a better understanding of how the brains of young adults differ from those of children and adults and how this affects young adult behavior. He also elaborates on the importance of considering how culpability and punishment should be viewed differently in cases involving young adults.

Objectives:

  • to understand the fundamental differences between adolescent and adult brains
  • to understand how maturation of the adolescent brain could affect the behavior of young adults

To learn more about Dr. Kinscherff, click here.

Additional Resources:

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In this module, Dr. David Thomas, founding member of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pain Consortium, provides an overview of the neuroscience of pain and seeks to answer the following questions:

  • What is pain? What do we know about the brain pathways involved in acute and chronic pain? What treatments are available?
  • What are the social costs of pain?
  • What are the current diagnostic techniques used to detect pain?
  • Are there objective measures of pain, and what are the drawbacks of technologies that try to achieve this?

Objectives:

  • to understand the difference between pain and nociception, how clinicians define acute and chronic pain, and the pain pathways in the brain
  • to understand the variability of the experience of pain
  • to obtain a basic understanding of the current diagnostic techniques related to pain detection

To learn more about Dr. Thomas, click here.

Additional Resources:

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Senior District Judge Jed S. Rakoff elucidates the purpose of this web-based neuroscience program and highlights the important, continuing role neuroscience research plays in the legal system.

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This module provides a brief introduction to the brain and central nervous system. Dr. Andrea H. Gaede, a Science & Technology Policy Judicial Fellow from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), answers the following questions:

  • What are the major components of the central nervous system?
  • How do neurons communicate?
  • How do neural networks facilitate our interactions with the world around us?

Objective:

  • to gain a fundamental understanding of the brain’s structure and how the brain works

Additional Resources:

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Judge Jed S. Rakoff provides concluding remarks.

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a rich area of research that is growing in public interest and increasing in funding due to the rising awareness of brain injuries related to military service and athletic activities. This module highlights the ways in which TBI may alter brain function.

Dr. David Brody, director of the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the Uniformed Services University, is considered one of the world’s foremost researchers on traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases. In this segment, Dr. Brody describes the symptoms, pathology, and treatment of TBI and how these injuries affect behavior in patients.

Objectives:

  • to understand how TBI is defined and detected
  • to understand how these conditions are diagnosed and the legal issues that might stem from such a diagnosis

To learn more about Dr. Brody, click here.

Additional Resources:

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In this module, Dr. Craig Stark from the University of California, Irvine, discusses how memory is encoded in the brain, how memories can be manipulated, and why these topics are relevant to the courts. He addresses the following questions:

  • What are some common misperceptions about memory (e.g., are memories of stressful events more reliable than other memories)? How are these relevant to legal matters?
  • How do memory distortions occur, and what factors affecting memories should we be aware of?
  • How does stress affect memory retrieval?
  • What are some potential uses for lie and recognition detection?

Objectives:

  • to understand how memories are encoded in the brain
  • to define lie and recognition and understand how these terms relate to both law and neuroscience

To learn more about Dr. Stark, click here.

Additional Resources:

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In this module, Dr. Read Montague, an American neuroscientist, popular science author, and professor at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, describes how researchers are studying structure and connectivity in the human brain, what the data may tell us about criminal responsibility, and the impact that this research may have on the courts. He addresses the following questions:

  • What can neuroimaging tell us about capacity? To what extent can the data provide insight about an individual in specific circumstances versus general information about brain function?
  • Can scientists use neuroimaging data to provide evidence related to capacity or intent?
  • What does recent research show regarding legally defined mental states and their representation in distinct brain regions?
  • What sort of large-scale guidance can the data provide?

Objectives:

  • to broadly understand the approaches researchers are using to shed light on capacity and criminal responsibility
  • to appreciate the scope of what these data can contribute to legal policy

To learn more about Dr. Montague, click here.

Additional Resources:

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This module provides a basic overview of how functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology works, what the data can tell a researcher, and what challenges those who seek to introduce fMRI data in court face.

Dr. John VanMeter, director of the Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging at Georgetown University, applies his significant expertise in the analysis of magnetic resonance imaging data to demonstrate an experiment using fMRI and discusses caveats of this technology, experiment structure, the group-to-individual inference problem, and how these things could be useful to the courts.

Objectives:

  • to understand what fMRI is measuring and how the data is analyzed
  • to understand the caveats of fMRI studies
  • to gain awareness of the types of cases that might draw upon fMRI data

To learn more about Dr. VanMeter, click here.

Additional Resources:

  • Prospects of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging as Lie Detector
  • Martha J. Farah, J. Benjamin Hutchinson, Elizabeth A. Phelps & Anthony D. Wagner, Functional MRI-Based Lie Detection: Scientific and Societal Challenges, 15 Nature Reviews Neuroscience 123 (2014).
  • Michael S. Pardo, Lying, Deception, and fMRI: A Critical Update, in Neurolaw and Responsibility for Action: Concepts, Crimes, and Courts 143 (Bebhinn Donnelly-Lazarov ed., Cambridge University Press 2018).
  • Anthony D. Wagner et al., fMRI and Lie Detection, MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience (2016).
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Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), provide insight into the current trajectory of neuroscience research. They highlight the future direction of research funded by the NIH BRAIN Initiative, and by extension, the field of neuroscience. This discussion provides insight into neuroscience evidence that may appear in the courts in the near future.

Objectives:

  • to examine current trends of neuroscience research
  • to learn about the importance of the NIH BRAIN Initiative for neuroscience and courts

To learn more about Dr. Koroshetz, click here. To learn more about Dr. Gordon, click here.

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