News Center

Elsewhere Online twitter Facebook SLS Blogs YouTube SLS Channel Linked In SLSNavigator SLS on Flickr

Bridging The Worlds Of Neuroscience And The Law

Publication Date: 
March 01, 2008
The California Bar Journal
Diane Curtis

Professor Henry T. "Hank" Greely, a leader in the new Law and Neuroscience Project headquartered at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is quoted by The California Bar Journal about the state of the new field of neuroscience and how useful it is in "deception detection":

“I think we should be skeptical about these claims,” says Hank Greely, law professor at Stanford University and a leader in the new Law and Neuroscience Project headquartered at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “We need to not rush into it. But we also need not to ignore it.”


Greely, chair of the steering committee for the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics and co-director of the project’s Network on Differing Brains, sees real value in answers that neuroscience might provide that are relevant to the law. Further investigations into the workings of the brain might better help define the scope of an insanity defense, make better predictions related to sentencing or tell whether someone really is suffering pain or is biased, says Greely. He also notes that treatment alternatives may be found through neuroscience. “We may be able to figure out better ways to deal with criminals than warehousing. We may come up with better ways to deal with drug addiction.”

But the biggest potential, he says, may relate to mind reading through such methods as the fMRI. “If that worked — and I think it’s a big if — I think that would transform a lot of law even if it weren’t admitted in trial but just used as an investigative tool.”

Then he adds: “I want to stress that neuroscience is at the early stages. You can go wrong by thinking it’s more powerful than it is . . . It may transform the legal profession or it may not. I see our project as playing this kind of centrist balancing role.”


Greely says fMRI has been admitted in a few cases in U.S. courts but never for lie detection. An Iowa court ruled in 2001 that brain fingerprinting, a technique patented by former Harvard psychologist Lawrence Farwell, could be used in court in the case of a man who said he did not commit a murder for which he had been convicted. But the court made clear that because the brain fingerprinting, which reportedly reads brain wave responses, “is not necessary to a resolution of the appeal, we give it no further consideration.”