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). 03/2012; 35(2):104-111. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2012.01.001


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.

Download full-text


Available from: Stephan Schleim, Jun 28, 2014
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In some criminal law cases, the defendant is assessed by a forensic psychiatrist or psychologist within the context of an insanity defense. In this article I argue that specific neuroscientific research can be helpful in improving the quality of such a forensic psychiatric evaluation. This will be clarified in two ways. Firstly, we shall adopt the approach of understanding these forensic assessments as evaluations of the influence of a mental disorder on a defendant's decision-making process. Secondly, I shall point to the fact that researchers in neuroscience have performed various studies over recent years on the influence of specific mental disorders on a patient's decision-making. I argue that such research, especially if modified to decision-making in criminal scenarios, could be very helpful to forensic psychiatric assessments. This kind of research aims to provide insights not merely into the presence of a mental disorder, but also into the actual impact of mental disorders on the decisions defendants have made in regard to their actions.
    No preview · Article · Mar 2013 · International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In the second half of the 19th-century, a group of psychiatric experts discussed the relation between brain malfunction and moral misconduct. In the ensuing debates, scientific discourses on immorality merged with those on insanity and the brain. This yielded a specific definition of what it means to be immoral: immoral and insane due to a disordered brain. In this context, diverse neurobiological explanations for immoral mind and behavior existed at the time. This article elucidates these different brain-based explanations via five historical cases of immoral persons. In addition, the article analyses the associated controversies in the context of the period's psychiatric thinking. The rendering of the immoral person as brain-disordered is scrutinized in terms of changes in moral agency. Furthermore, a present immoral person is discussed to highlight commonalities and differences in past and present reasoning.
    No preview · Article · Apr 2013 · History of the Human Sciences
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Scientific research about the biological basis of aggressive and criminal behaviors performed in the last few decades could change modern criminology. Functional and structural neuroimaging overall suggests that decreased prefrontal activity and increased subcortical activity may predispose individuals to violence. At a molecular level, dopamine and serotonin signaling seem to be mostly involved in contributing to this phenotype, which has also revealed a significant heritability. In the present article, the Authors will try to explore the issues related to the coupling of imaging and genetic data with criminology, starting from the first case which made this kind of evidence gain admittance to a US criminal courtroom. © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014. All rights are reserved.
    No preview · Article · Aug 2013
Show more