Vanderbilt Law School Background Image

Owen D. Jones

New York Alumni Chancellor's Chair in Law
Professor of Biological Sciences
Director, MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience

Owen Jones specializes in the intersection of law and behavioral biology. Holding joint academic appointments, he uses methods from brain-imaging (fMRI), evolutionary biology, and behavioral economics to learn more about how the brain's varied operations affect behaviors relevant to law. With four grants from the MacArthur Foundation, totaling over 7.6 million dollars, he designed, created and directs the national Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. The Network partners selected 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 more than 75 brain-scanning and conceptual works.

Professor Jones – one of the authors of the book Law and Neuroscience – has published more than 50 scholarly articles, book chapters, and essays in such legal venues as the Columbia, Chicago, California, NYU, Northwestern, Cornell, Vanderbilt, and Michigan law reviews, and in such leading scientific journals as Neuron, Nature Neuroscience, the Journal of Neuroscience, Current Biology, Evolution and Human Behavior, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Most recently, for example, he and colleagues discovered: the brain activities distinguishing knowing and reckless states of mind; the interactions of rational and emotional brain regions during punishment decisions; and the brain activities that separately correlate with assessing harms, discerning mental states, integrating those two, and choosing punishment amounts. He has directed or co-directed more than 50 interdisciplinary academic conferences.

Before joining the legal academy, Jones was a law clerk for Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and practiced law with the D.C. law firm Covington & Burling. Professor Jones was named a Chancellor’s Chair in 2010. In 2014 he received the 2014 Joe. B. Wyatt Distinguished University Professor Award, which annually honors one member of the Vanderbilt University faculty for accomplishments that bridge multiple academic disciplines and yield significant new knowledge from research. In 2015, he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Selected Media Coverage of Scholarship

Research Interests

Law and behavioral sciences, law and behavioral biology, law and neuroscience, evolutionary analysis in law

Representative Publications

  • Law and Neuroscience (Aspen Publishers, 2014) (with J. Schall and F. Shen) (Excerpts) (Reviews)
  • “Predicting the Knowledge-Recklessness Distinction in the Human Brain," 114 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 3222 (2017) (with I. Vilares, M. Wesley, W. Ahn, R. Bonnie, M. Hoffman, S. Morse, G. Yaffe, T. Lohrenz, and R. Montague)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • “Parsing the Behavioral and Brain Mechanisms of Third-Party Punishment,” 36 Journal of Neuroscience 9420 (2016) (with M. Ginther, R. Bonnie, M. Hoffman, F. Shen, K. Simons and R. Marois)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • “Decoding Guilty Minds: How Jurors Attribute Knowledge and Guilt,” 71 Vanderbilt L. Review 241 (2018) (with M. Ginther, F. Shen, R. Bonnie, M. Hoffman, K. Simons)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "Evolution and the Expression of Biases: Situational Value Changes the Endowment Effect in Chimpanzees," 33 Evolution & Human Behavior 378 (2012) (with S. Brosnan, M. Gardner, S. Lambeth and S. Schapiro)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • “Sorting Guilty Minds” 86 New York University Law Review 1306 (2011) (with F. Shen, M. Hoffman, J. Greene, R. Marois)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "Intuitions of Punishment," 77 Chicago Law Review 1633 (2010) (with R. Kurzban)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "The Neural Correlates of Third-Party Punishment," 60 Neuron 930 (Dec. 10, 2008) (with J. Buckholtz, C. Asplund, P. Dux, D. Zald, J. Gore, and R. Marois) [Read coverage of this article in the Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine]
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "Law and Behavioral Biology," 105 Columbia Law Review 405 (2005) (with T.H. Goldsmith)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • "Time-Shifted Rationality and the Law of Law's Leverage: Behavioral Economics Meets Behavioral Biology," 95 Northwestern University Law Review 1141 (2001)
    Full Text | SSRN