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Breakthrough in Memory Research

Breakthrough in Memory Research

Jim Windell

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Does neuroscience help us understand the criminal mind?

When someone is charged with a serious crime, say, for instance, a murder do we have any neurological tests that will help us answer such questions “Was this person stable when he committed the crime?” or “Should he be held accountable under the law for his criminal actions?”

These kinds of questions were posed in a recent article in the American Bar Association Journal. In the article, written by Kevin Davis, it was pointed out that millions of dollars have been spent on research to better understand the human brain. Yet, the article wondered if a host of legal questions could be answered today – any better than in past decades.

“What’s going on in a person’s brain is relevant to so many domains of law,” says Owen Jones, director of the research network and the Glenn M. Weaver, M.D., and Mary Ellen Weaver Chair in Law, Brain and Behavior at Vanderbilt Law School. “Historically, there’s been no way to make those assessments,” Jones adds. “When you’re trying to understand the multiple causes of a person’s behavior, you want to try to understand what’s giving rise to their mental states.”

There is no doubt, Davis points out, that criminal defense lawyers use or cite neuroscience to help mitigate or explain their clients’ behavior. For example, it has been found that between 2005 and 2015, there were more than 2,800 judicial opinions in which neuroscience played a role.



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