New Research on Emotions in Criminal Punishment Decisions

A new article represents a major advance in understanding the interactions of rational and emotional brain regions during punishment decisions.

The work – Corticolimbic Gating of Emotion-Driven Punishment – appears in the leading neuroscience journal Nature Neuroscience.


Determining the appropriate punishment for a norm violation requires consideration of both the perpetrator’s state of mind (for example, purposeful or blameless) and the strong emotions elicited by the harm caused by their actions. It has been hypothesized that such affective responses serve as a heuristic that determines appropriate punishment. However, an actor’s mental state often trumps the effect of emotions, as unintended harms may go unpunished, regardless of their magnitude. Using fMRI, we found that emotionally graphic descriptions of harmful acts amplify punishment severity, boost amygdala activity and strengthen amygdala connectivity with lateral prefrontal regions involved in punishment decision-making. However, this was only observed when the actor’s harm was intentional; when harm was unintended, a temporoparietal-medial-prefrontal circuit suppressed amygdala activity and the effect of graphic descriptions on punishment was abolished. These results reveal the brain mechanisms by which evaluation of a transgressor’s mental state gates our emotional urges to punish.

The Vanderbilt Press Release on the new research appears here:

Please contact for commentary:

Michael Treadway

René Marois      

Posted by grovese on September 5, 2014 in Criminal Law, Neurolaw

Recommendations Submitted to the President’s Bioethics Commission

Owen D. Jones, Richard J. Bonnie, B. J. Casey, Andre Davis, David L. Faigman, Morris Hoffman, Read Montague, Stephen J. Morse, Marcus E. Raichle, Jennifer A. Richeson, Elizabeth Scott, Laurence Steinberg, Kim Taylor-Thompson, Anthony Wagner, and Gideon Yaffe, Law and Neuroscience: Recommendations Submitted to the President’s Bioethics Commission, 1(2) J Law Biosci 224 (2014).

President Obama charged the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to identify a set of core ethical standards in the neuroscience domain, including the appropriate use of neuroscience in the criminal-justice system. The Commission, in turn, called for comments and recommendations.

The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience submitted a consensus statement containing 16 specific recommendations. These are organized within three main themes: 1) what steps should be taken to enhance the capacity of the criminal justice system to make sound decisions regarding the admissibility and weight of neuroscientific evidence?; 2) to what extent can the capacity of neurotechnologies to aid in the administration of criminal justice be enhanced through research?; and 3) in what additional ways might important ethical issues at the intersection of neuroscience and criminal justice be addressed?

These comments along with introductory commentary have been published by the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, and can be accessed here:

Posted by grovese on September 4, 2014 in Criminal Law, Moral and Legal Responsibility, Neurolaw, Recent Neurolaw-related Papers

New “Law and Neuroscience” Book Now Available

The new book “Law and Neuroscience” is now published and available.

A website describing the book, with reviews from prominent neuroscientists and legal scholars, appears here.

A brief description of the book – as well as a Sample Chapter, and a Summary Table of Contents – has been posted here.

If you are interested in requesting an examination copy of the book, please contact the publisher directly by e-mail ( or by phone (800-950-5259).

The book can be purchased from Amazon here.

Designed for use in both law schools and beyond, the book provides user-friendly introductions, as well as detailed explorations, of the many current and emerging issues at the intersection of
law and neuroscience.

One part of the book lays general foundations by exploring the relationships between law and science generally, and by comparing the views from law and from neuroscience regarding behavior and responsibility. A later part explains the basics of brain structure and function, the methods for investigating each, and both the promise and the limitations of modern neuroscience technologies.

Core themes the book addresses include new law/neuroscience issues pertaining to: brain injuries, pain and distress, memory, emotions, lie detection, judging, adolescence, addiction, and brain death. Closing units explore current and coming legal issues surrounding cognitive enhancement, brain-machine interfaces, and artificial intelligence. The materials also consider: international neurolaw, psychopathy, decision-making, mental health, the aging brain, the veteran’s brain, behavioral genetics, prediction of future dangerousness, and neuroethics. Given the scope and nature of coverage, the book is designed to serve both as a coursebook and as a reference text for judges, practicing attorneys, and scholars interested in law and neuroscience.

Posted by grovese on September 3, 2014 in Books, Criminal Law, Education, Neurolaw

Podcast on “The Punisher’s Brain”

Judge  Morris Hoffman, Member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, was recently interviewed about his new book The Punisher’s Brain: The Evolution of Judge and Jury (Cambridge University Press) by Dr. Raj Persaud, a Fellow of The Royal College of Psychiatrists.

To access the podcast, visit:

Posted by grovese on September 3, 2014 in Around the Web, Books, Criminal Law, Neurolaw

New Book — Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, Distinguished University Professor and the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University and member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, has authored a forthcoming book titled Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence.

The book will be published on September 9, 2014, but is now available for pre-order.  To read more about this new book, visit:

Posted by grovese on August 13, 2014 in Adolescents, Books

Judicial Opinion Cites Neuroscience Research

U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett recently issued an opinion (U.S. v. Hendrickson) that cites neuroscience research on addiction and adolescent development and discusses addiction and youth as mitigating factors.

To read the entire opinion, visit:$File/MWB-13-cr-4110,+United+States+v.+Hendrickson,+Sentencing+Order,+6112014.pdf

Posted by grovese on July 24, 2014 in Addiction, Adolescents, Criminal Law, Neurolaw

Op-Ed: Concussion Settlement Is Deeply Flawed

Michael V. Kaplen and Shana De Caro recently published an op-ed in The National Law Journal titled “Concussion Settlement Is Deeply Flawed.”  The piece states:

Many classes of players are not adequately represented, and most NFL players are all but ignored by the attorneys who negotiated the agreement. Certain, small  and discrete groups are designated for compensation, but players experiencing physical, emotional and behavioral impairments remain excluded.

To read the entire piece, visit:

Posted by grovese on July 22, 2014 in Around the Web, Neurolaw in the News

The Trouble With Brain Science

The New York Times recently published a op-ed titled “The Trouble With Brain Science” by Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology at New York University.  The piece asks, “Are we ever going to figure out how the brain works?” and discusses the efforts of the Human Brain Project and the Brain Initiative.

To read the entire op-ed, visit:

Posted by grovese on July 14, 2014 in Around the Web, Neurolaw in the News, Neuroscience, Popular Press

Judge Approves NFL Concussion Settlement

U.S. District Judge Anita Brody recently granted preliminary approval to “a landmark deal that would compensate thousands of former NFL players for concussion-related claims.”

The settlement will last at least 65 years and will provide eligible retired players with baseline neurological exams and include monetary awards for diagnoses of ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and early and moderate dementia.

To read more, visit:

Posted by grovese on July 9, 2014 in Around the Web, Neuroscience

Neurolaw News

The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience distributes an e-newsletter, Neurolaw News, which highlights important items of interest for the neurolaw community.  These include notifications of new publications, news of upcoming neurolaw conferences, and the like.  To avoid inbox clutter, distributions occur approximately once every 2 months.

To subscribe to the newsletter, please visit:

For the latest edition of Neurolaw News, please visit:

Posted by grovese on July 7, 2014 in Around the Web, Books, Calls for Papers, Conferences and Events, Education, Neurolaw, Neurolaw in the News, Popular Press, Recent Neurolaw-related Papers

Welcome to the Law and Neuroscience Blog

Welcome to the The Law and Neuroscience Blog--which we have created to provide an on-line forum where the members of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience can share their ideas and interact with not only other researchers but also with the interested public more generally. One of the main goals of the blog is to provide a resource with information about cutting edge research at the cross-roads of neuroscience, law, and philosophy.