New Report on Progress: Neuroscience in the Court

Craig Stark, Ph.D., a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a Dana Alliance member, urges caution about how neuroscience advances may influence the courts in the October Report on Progress. In the report, Dr. Stark discusses the neuroimaging of brain scans and the limitation of memory:

It should come as no surprise that there are many areas in which breakthroughs in neuroscience, and neuroimaging in particular, have informed and will continue to inform the courts.  Are there signs of brain activity following trauma even though a person is motionless and unresponsive?  Is there a lesion that might explain a person’s sudden change in behavior and might serve as a mitigating factor at sentencing?  By being able to peer inside the skull and observe both the structure and function of the brain, we can speak to questions like these with some confidence.

There are many questions though, that despite all our technology and all our progress, we cannot readily address—at least not with the confidence that would be required to affect an individual’s criminal trial.  We all see headlines touting remarkable, definitive sounding findings such as “Study finds psychopaths have distinct brain structures.”  Below the headline we might read about structural brain differences between psychopaths (or whatever group is under study) and the rest of us.  Our instinct is to believe that neuroscientists have identified a pathognomonic brain alteration and can now determine if someone is a psychopath based on a brain scan.  Yet this is far from the truth and, in this case, not even what the authors of this solid study claim.

Read the full story, and find all the Reports on Progress here: http://www.dana.org/Publications/ReportOnProgress/

–Blayne Jeffries

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