Brain’s Emotional and Analytical Centers Active in Judging Crime
Posted Jan 16, 2009 10:07 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
Researchers have found in an initial experiment that the brain’s analytical and emotional centers are both active in volunteers asked to determine criminal punishment.
The research is part of a three-year research program overseen by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Wall Street Journal reports. The study used magnetic resonance imaging to measure how brain cells behaved in 16 volunteers assessing guilt and punishment in 50 hypothetical crime scenarios.
The researchers found activity in areas of the brain associated with analytical reasoning and with emotion, including areas that process risk and fear in decision-making.
Vanderbilt law professor Owen Jones conducted the experiment with Vanderbilt neuroscientists Rene Marois and Joshua Buckholtz, the story says. Marois said he was surprised to find so much emotional activity in legal decision-making.
"This reasoning may not be so detached. It shattered my preconceived ideas of the legal system," he told the Wall Street Journal. "But for a lawyer, maybe it doesn't."
Future experiments will examine brain scans of inmates diagnosed as psychopaths, and scans of state and federal judges, the story says. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is providing funding as part of a three-year program studying the legal implications of brain research. O’Conner is overseeing the $10 million program, the story says.
The study was published in Neuron (PDF).