Weaver Family Program in Law, Brain Sciences, and Behavior

Featured Research

  • Law and Neuroscience

    Owen Jones’ coauthored book with Jeffrey Schall and Francis Shen, from Aspen Publishers, is now in its second edition. The book explains for a legal audience the basics of brain structure and function, the methods for investigating each, and both the promise and the limitations of modern neuroscience technologies. Core themes include new law/neuroscience issues pertaining to brain injuries, pain and distress, memory, emotions, lie detection, judging, adolescence, addiction, the aging brain and brain death. Closing units explore current and coming legal issues surrounding cognitive enhancement, brain-machine interfaces, and artificial intelligence.

  • Blinking on the Bench

    A ground-breaking article co-authored by Chris Guthrie with Jeffrey Rachlnski and Andrew Wistrich, published in the Cornell Law Review in 2007. The article poses the question of how judges judge. Relying on empirical studies of judicial reasoning and decision making, the authors propose an entirely new model of judging that provides a more accurate explanation of judicial behavior. Their model accounts for the tendency of the human brain to make automatic, snap judgments, which are surprisingly accurate, but which can also lead to erroneous decisions. Equipped with a better understanding of judging, they then propose reforms to support more just and accurate outcomes.

  • The Once and Future Juvenile Brain

    Terry Maroney’s chapter in Choosing the Future of Juvenile Justice, edited by Franklin Zimring and David Tanenhaus and published by NYU Press in 2014, examines the impacts of adolescent brain science on juvenile justice policy. Adolescent brain science has become a quick, culturally salient way to reference qualities we think are special about juveniles, such as immaturity, impulsivity and malleability. While the American justice system has unquestionably entered a new juvenile justice era to which adolescent brain science has contributed, this new era is one in which scholars have refocused on stable truths about children and their environments that they think and talk about through a scientific lens.

  • Time to Repay or Time to Delay?

    Paige Marta Skiba’s co-authored article, published in 2022 in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, examines the effect of state laws on minimum payday loan durations that give some borrowers an additional pay cycle to repay their initial loan with no other changes to the contract terms. Neo-classical models predict this “grace period” would reduce borrowers’ need for costly loan rollovers. But in reality, borrowers’ repayment behavior with grace periods is very similar to the behavior of borrowers with shorter loans. A calibrated model suggests that present-focused borrowers get less than half the benefit from a grace period than time-consistent borrowers would gain. Co-authors include Susan Payne Carter, Kuan Lui and Justin Sydnor. 

  • Neuroscience Nuance: Dissecting the Relevance of Neuroscience in Adjudicating Criminal Culpability

    Chris Slobogin’s article published in 2017 in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences,  identifies the five types of neuroscience evidence most likely to be presented on the issues of guilt and punishment and discusses when that evidence is material under accepted legal doctrine. It concludes that, even on the assumption that the data presented are accurate, much commonly proffered neuroscientific evidence is immaterial or only weakly material, not only at trial but also at sentencing. At the same time, it recognizes that certain types of neuroscience evidence can be very useful in criminal adjudication, especially at sentencing. 

Resources

Created in 2011 by director Owen Jones with four grants from the MacArthur Foundation totaling over 7.6 million dollars. The network partners legal scholars and brain scientists at leading universities—including Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Virginia, Cornell, Northwestern, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others—to explore systematically both the promise and the limitations of using new neuroscientific techniques to improve criminal justice.  Since 2011, this Network team has published 108 brain-scanning and conceptual works.

Jones and neurolaw colleagues have demonstrated that, by combining brain-imaging techniques with machine-learning algorithms, it is possible to distinguish between different culpable mental states in the brain. Jones and another research team discovered how the rational and emotional regions of the brain interact when individuals are deciding what punishment is appropriate for a crime and considering any mitigating factors that might affect punishment. 

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