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Brain Researcher Cautions About Using Neuroscience in the Courtroom

Posted Nov 3, 2011 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A psychologist known for his studies about the differences between the brain’s left and right hemispheres has written a new book that expresses concern about the use of neuroscience in society and the courtroom.

Some lawyers are already seeking to introduce brain images as courtroom evidence, the New York Times reports. Some use them to argue defendants lack responsibility. Some seek to prove a subject is lying or telling the truth.

Michael Gazzaniga, now a University of California psychology professor, has misgivings, the Times says. He expresses them in his book Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain.

Gazzaniga studied epilepsy patients who underwent operations to cut the connections between the right and left hemispheres of their brains to reduce seizures. He and other researchers developed a way to flash pictures to only the right and left hemispheres. They learned that language is governed by the left and visual-spatial skills are governed by the right.

Additional experiments showed the left hemisphere takes whatever information it has and fills in the blanks to develop conscious awareness. According to the Times, “The brain’s cacophony of competing voices feels coherent because some module or network somewhere in the left hemisphere is providing a running narration.”

“One implication of this is a familiar staple of psychotherapy and literature: We are not who we think we are,” the Times says. “But another implication has to do with responsibility. If our sense of control is built on an unreliable account from automatic brain processes, how much control do we really have?”

According to the story, Gazzaniga argues that it’s difficult to tell where automatic brain responses end and self-determinism starts.

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