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Owen D. Jones

Glenn M. Weaver, M.D. and Mary Ellen Weaver Chair in Law, Brain, and Behavior
Professor of Law
Professor of Biological Sciences
Director, MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience
Director, Weaver Family Program in Law, Brain Sciences, and Behavior

Owen Jones specializes in the intersection of law and brain sciences with an emphasis on decision-making and behavior. Holding joint academic appointments, he uses methods and insights 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 108 brain-scanning and conceptual works.

Professor Jones is one of the authors of the book Law and Neuroscience. He has authored or co-authored more than 50 scholarly articles, book chapters and essays in such legal venues as the Columbia, Chicago, Pennsylvania, 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. Testing predictions of his 2001 theory that many patterns (including cognitive biases) and errors in human decision-making reflect evolutionary origins, he and colleagues published, as proof of concept, the first clear evidence of a trade-based "endowment effect" in a non-human species (chimpanzees), and successfully predicted contextual variations in the size of the effect in humans. Jones 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 Covington & Burling. Jones was named a Chancellor’s Chair in 2010 and became the inaugural holder of the Weaver Chair in 2019. 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 brain sciences, law and behavioral sciences, law and behavioral biology, law and neuroscience, evolutionary analysis in law, errors in decision-making, including cognitive biases


Additional Courses

Law and Neuroscience

Representative Publications

  • Law and Neuroscience, Aspen Publishers (2nd edition, 2021) (with J. Schall and F. Shen) (Excerpts) (Reviews)
    Full Text | SSRN | WWW
  • “Detecting Mens Rea in the Brain,” 169 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 1 (2020) (with R. Montague and G. Yaffe)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • “Predicting Variation in Endowment Effect Magnitudes,” 41 Evolution & Human Behavior 253 (2020) (with C. Jaeger, S. Brosnan and D. Levin)
    Full Text | SSRN
  • “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
  • “Decoding Guilty Minds: How Jurors Attribute Knowledge and Guilt,” 71 Vanderbilt Law Review 241 (2018) (with M. Ginther, F. Shen, R. Bonnie, M. Hoffman and K. Simons)
    Full Text | SSRN | HEIN
  • “Sorting Guilty Minds,” 86 New York University Law Review 1306 (2011) (with F. Shen, M. Hoffman, J. Greene and R. Marois)
    Full Text | SSRN | HEIN
  • "Intuitions of Punishment," 77 Chicago Law Review 1633 (2010) (with R. Kurzban)
    Full Text | SSRN | HEIN
  • "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 | BEPRESS
  • "Law and Behavioral Biology," 105 Columbia Law Review 405 (2005) (with T.H. Goldsmith)
    Full Text | SSRN | HEIN
  • "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 | HEIN