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See Inside April 2011

Neuroscience in the Courtroom

Brain scans and other types of neurological evidence are rarely a factor in trials today. Someday, however, they could transform judicial views of personal credibility and responsibility



Photograph by Zachary Zavislak. Brain courtesy of Department of Pathology, Columbia University Medical center.

By a strange coincidence, I was called to jury duty for my very first time shortly after I started as director of a new MacArthur Foundation project exploring the issues that neuro­science raises for the criminal justice system. Eighty of us showed up for selection in a case that involved a young woman charged with driving under the influence, but most of my fellow citizens were excused for various reasons, primarily their own DUI experiences. Finally, I was called to the judge. “Tell me what you do,” he said.

“I am a neuroscientist,” I answered, “and I have actually done work relevant to what goes on in a courtroom. For example, I have studied how false memories form, the nature of addiction, and how the brain regulates behavior.”

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