Neuroscience and the Law

The use of neuroscience technologies in court cases will most definitely revolutionize the enforcement of laws. Justice could easily be awarded if brain imaging technology is effectively utilized as further evidence. Until this point in time, only a few brain scanning techniques have been applied, but each comes with its own set of benefits and faults.

Electroencephalography (EEG) is most commonly used to measure electrical activity in the brain. In order to do so, these electrodes are typically fastened to a flexible cap (similar to a swimming cap) that is placed on the participant’s head. From the scalp, the electrodes measure the electrical activity that is naturally occurring within the brain. This type of brain scan is passive, no current is delivered. The signal being measured is the difference in charges between the electrodes. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a method that is used to assess changes in activity of tissue, such as measuring changes in neural activity in different areas of the brain during thought. Also, fMRI measures the change in the concentration of oxygenated hemoglobin, which is known as the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal.

There are positive and negative associations with each of these brain tests. EEG for instance directly measures brain activity, whereas fMRI does not, neural activity must be inferred. Also, an EEG is temporally precise and has the ability to detect brain synchrony. But because an EEG can be done by placing the electrodes directly on the skull, the test is movement sensitive and has poor spatial resolution. fMRI data typically have poor temporal resolution; however, when combined with sMRI, fMRI provides excellent spatial resolution.  This method is valuable for identifying specific areas of the brain that are associated with different physical or psychological tasks; fMRI is an excellent tool for comparing brain activation in different tasks and/or populations. Clinically, fMRI may be used prior to neurosurgery in order to identify areas that are associated with language so that the surgeon can avoid those areas during the operation. fMRI allows researchers to identify differential or convergent patterns of activation associated with tasks.

I believe that neuroscience technology is often not given enough credit in association with the law. Courts should be more open towards new methods of testing and new forms of evidence. There is a high percentage that these techniques will work in the favor of proving those innocent and guilty. With the establishment of the M’Naghten rule neuroscientists believe that they can such brain scans as a supplement to prove that an individual is not mentally aware of crimes they have committed or criminal activity. However, it must also be considered that perception of reality differs from person to person, not two people are alike. An EEG or fMRI may work for some cases, but not at all in others. But for medical advancements to come through in a court of law, these chances should be taken. Hopefully, not only criminal activity in the brain, but aid will also be provided in due time.

One response to “Neuroscience and the Law”

  1. Grace Frost says:

    As you’ve already mentioned, no two people are alike. The genetic variation between us makes me question using a comparison to an average as a way of identifying brain abnormality (as seen in the use of the fMRI), since certain regions of the brain may develop differently.

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