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Brains in context in the neurolaw debate: The examples of free will and "dangerous" brains

Theory and History of Psychology, Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands.
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 1.19). 01/2012; 35(2):104-111. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2012.01.001

ABSTRACT Will neuroscience revolutionize forensic practice and our legal institutions? In the debate about the legal implications of brain research, free will and the neural bases of antisocial or criminal behavior are of central importance. By analyzing frequently quoted examples for the unconscious determinants of behavior and antisocial personality changes caused by brain lesions in a wider psychological and social context, the paper argues for a cautious middle position: Evidence for an impending normative "neuro-revolution" is scarce and neuroscience may instead gradually improve legal practice in the long run, particularly where normative questions directly pertain to brain-related questions. In the conclusion the paper raises concerns that applying neuroscience methods about an individual's responsibility or dangerousness is premature at the present time and carries serious individual and societal risks. Putting findings from brain research in wider contexts renders them empirically investigable in a way that does not neglect psychological and social aspects of human mind and behavior.

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