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MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience

Research Projects

The Research Network on Law and Neuroscience focuses on five main legal problems. The first two problems are primarily empirical and concern the challenges for law of ascertaining mental states of defendants and witnesses.  The second two problems are also principally empirical and concern questions of a defendant’s mental and behavioral capacities.  The final two problems are conceptual and cross-cutting and concern the difficulties that neuroscientific evidence poses for judges making evidentiary decisions.  The research can be understood within this conceptual framework (opens as .pdf).

Researchers working on these problems will be:

  1. Conducting brain imaging studies that will help to improve the detection and classification of defendant mental states and will help to provide a richer understanding of how individuals process information on risk and reward when engaged in criminal acts.
  2. Conducting a neuroscientific study of normal adolescent brain development and cognition that will help to reveal the neural underpinnings of the maturating psychological capacities relevant to the criminal justice system.
  3. Conducting neuroscientific studies regarding neural processes correlated with lying and with recognizing previously encountered information.
  4. Conducting several behavioral and neuroscientific experiments that can illuminate, in ways useful to law, how jurors and judges assess a defendant’s intent and, if he is deemed culpable, decide a suitable punishment.
  5. Convening a working group to develop legally practical and scientifically valid guidelines for how to draw law-relevant inferences from group-averaged neuroscientific data.

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