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Archive for the ‘NeuroLaw’ Category

As it happens, two recent articles address this question and share the neuromyths that even many educators believe. Here is a quick definition of what a neuromyth is:

“Neuromyths are common misconceptions about brain research, many of which relate to learning and education.”?

Researchers have surveyed educators, the public and people who have completed neuroscience courses, to assess their belief in neuromyths. We will use a finding we read about earlier to help you remember that these myths are not true—they are (by definition) false.?

We are presenting these to you in the hope that if you, like many, think any of these neuromyths is true, you will learn that is not accurate. And we’ll make it easy on you. Here are some of the myths these two papers tell us (as does repeated research) are incorrect (read the papers in full for the entire list):?

FALSE: Children must be exposed to an enriched learning environment by age 3, or else learning capacities will be lost. FALSE

FALSE: Short bouts of motor coordination exercises can improve the integration of right and left hemispheres. FALSE

FALSE: We only use about 10% of our brain. FALSE

FALSE: Some people are left-brained, others are right-brained. FALSE

FALSE: Brain cells are joined together forming a huge set of nerves. FALSE

FALSE: We have five senses. FALSE?

FALSE: We have different learning styles and teaching that takes those styles into consideration is more effective. FALSE

FALSE: Couples dealing with infertility are more likely to get pregnant if they adopt. FALSE

FALSE: Dyslexia’s defining feature is letter reversal. FALSE

FALSE: Drilling a hole in the skull releases evil spirits. FALSE

Okay. That last one was just to make sure you were still paying attention. What is disturbing about many of these neuromyths is that even those who were educators or had specialized training in neuroscience still tended to think many of the tested myths were true. They are repeated so often that people tend to think they are still true (despite repeated efforts by scientists and researchers to debunk them).?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it makes it VERY important to use trustworthy and credible expert witnesses on any factoid that “everybody knows” but which isn’t really true. Using graphics to debunk as done in the Atlantic article we referenced earlier could be useful for deliberating jurors.?

FALSE: Just be sure your expert does not quote Mark Twain who never said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” FALSE?

Furnham, A. 2018. Myths and misconceptions in developmental and neuro-psychology. Scientific Research Publishing, Psychology. Open access:

Macdonald, K, Germine, L Anderson, A, Chrisodoulou, J McGrath, LM. 2017 Dispelling the myth: Training in education or neuroscience does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths. Frontiers in Psychology. Open access:


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It’s been a while since we updated the neurolaw area of the blog so we’re doing a combination post to alert you to a number of things we’ve seen coming across our desks. Think of these as things you can use to show colleagues how incredibly well-read and erudite you are while simultaneously dazzling them with your brilliance.

Did your brain make you do it?

Originally, this area of inquiry was frightening as some wondered if the new neuroscience defenses would dazzle jurors into excusing bad behavior because the defendant’s brain “made him do it”. As excitement over the pretty pictures of brain scans cooled, what we’ve found is that neither judges nor juries are particularly swayed by genetics. While an exciting possibility upon which to build a defense, it just hasn’t been persuasive in court. But now we have a new wrinkle in the making.

If you are a football fan, you may have heard of the issues with the NFL and the high rate of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) among former players. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that often looks much like ALS and now, attention is being focused on repeated concussions as related to the development of CTE. ESPN recently carried a story on the plight of the women married to former NFLers who struggle with the burden of medical costs and caregiving related to CTE. And also, even if you are not a football fan, you may have heard of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez who was convicted of murder and then hung himself in prison. His autopsy revealed this young man had “stage 3 of 4 of the disease and also had early brain atrophy and large perforations in a central membrane”. His family is suing the NFL and the suit is being referred to as “the CTE defense”. We’ll see where this one goes.

The MacArthur Foundation (home of the genius grants) has published a G2i knowledge brief

And what is that, you may wonder? G2i refers to “the challenge of reasoning from group data to make decisions about individuals”. [Read: Group to Individual.] Neuroscientific experts will often offer evidence from group data on how adolescents are less cognitively mature. Psychologists will offer factors contributing to eyewitness misidentification or to estimates of “future dangerousness”. All these kinds of testimonies are based on generalizing from group data to an individual person.

This brief helps you to understand the differences between group data and conclusions drawn about individuals. It is a must read document and, fortunately, it is written clearly and well so you don’t really have to be a genius to understand it.

Can fMRI’s tell if someone is lying about having chronic pain?

No. A recent international task force has released recommendations that “advise against” using brain imaging to test for whether someone is experiencing chronic pain. So how can you know if someone has pain? “The only way to truly know if someone is in pain is if they tell you because pain is subjective and it is a complex experience. No brain scan can do that.” The researchers say they continue to search for biological markers of pain but they have not yet reached that point.

When ‘not guilty’ is a life sentence

This is a very well-written article from the New York Times Magazine on what happens when someone is adjudicated “not guilty by reason of insanity”. It is a really nice example of long-form journalism that tells a story of just how hard it is to be released when you’ve been found NGRI.

In fact, despite its reputation as a “get out of jail free” card, the insanity defense has never been an easy way out — or easy to get. After a defendant is charged, the defendant, her lawyer or a judge can request evaluation by a psychiatrist. A defendant may be found incompetent to stand trial and committed for rehabilitation if she isn’t stable enough or intellectually capable of participating in the proceedings. If she is rehabilitated, she may be tried; if she cannot be, she may languish in a psychiatric hospital for years or decades. But mental illness is not exculpatory in itself: A defendant may be found mentally ill and still competent enough to stand trial. At that point, the district attorney may offer an insanity plea — some 90 percent of N.G.R.I. verdicts are plea deals. If the district attorney doesn’t offer a plea, or the defendant doesn’t take it, the case goes to trial. The defendant may still choose insanity as a defense, but then her case will be decided by a jury.

This article is part education on the system works and part story of how sad and frustrating it can be for a person who was mentally ill and committed a crime but is now treated and no longer dangerous. Yet, how do you convince a judge (or even the facility staff) that you are safe to release back into the community?

Recidivism for N.G.R.I.s is relatively low. Whereas, nationally, recidivism for released prisoners is above 60 percent, “people who are found N.G.R.I. tend to go back out into the community, and they tend to do really, really well,” Fitch says. The arrest rate for people in Maryland on conditional release, a kind of mental-health parole from the hospital, is less than half the arrest rate of the general population in the state. “If you provide treatment of illness and provide the supports they need, then they don’t reoffend,” Fitch says. As a 2016 study of N.G.R.I. recidivism in Connecticut — which has a post-release supervision program, too — also concluded: “The vast majority of individuals are not rearrested.”

It’s a sad and frightening story of a man caught in the system and the inconsistencies in the process for release. It is a good human interest story and a potentially good use of your pro bono time to help NGRI defendants return to the community after “sentences” to psychiatric hospitals that are typically much longer than the prison sentences they would have served.



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Top 10 Posts from 2017 (Part 1)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018
posted by Douglas Keene

It’s always interesting to go back and see what our readers found most noteworthy during the year. In the Top 10 (presented today and on Thursday) you will see some serious posts based on research findings with application to your work. You will also see not so serious posts that have attracted your attention. Enjoy!

Post No. 10: Steady eye contact can make it hard to think!?

We like to reference pop culture when it’s relevant (and even when it’s not sometimes) to help you take in the lesson in the research highlighted. This one references the TV show Friends (but only for the illustration gracing the post).

Post No. 9: Say it isn’t so!!! Most of us lie routinely.

This is one of two posts on deception (or lying) that made it into our Top 10. We all hate to be lied to and apparently, many of us like to learn possible ways to avoid that happening!

Post No. 8: Pique and the panhandler

Persuasion strategies are everywhere. We just have to look–sometimes when at a stoplight.

Post No. 7: Yes. It’s true. Somebody’s watching you. Constantly.?

Sometimes social sciences research informs. Other times it amuses. This time–it might just frighten you. But on the bright side, it will also make you more vigilant.

Post No. 6: There is so very much deception research. That means there are lots of liars out there…

Something happened in the past year or so and the pace of research being published on deception increased. We will not hazard a guess as to why that happened–just be comforted in knowing we are still here to keep you informed on all the ways people will try to lie to you (and others).

Come back Thursday to see Part 2 of this post. Several of our own favorites are in that post.

Image?[Note: This image has nothing to do with our blog posts but we thought you might want to be reminded what we were all most afraid of in 2017.]


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Here’s another post combining the things we’ve been collecting to blog about and presented together so we can clear the desk off with newer stuff!

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

At least, this is the best known quotation of the 19th century British politician Lord Acton. But in 2017, we have an article courtesy of The Atlantic that tells us power does more than corrupt, it actually damages your brain’s abilities that helped you rise to power in the first place. It’s called the “power paradox”: once you have power, you lose some of the skills needed to gain it in the first place. They describe a loss of empathy (i.e., “the empathy deficit”) and a general decrease in the ability to “read” others. They wonder if the impact of gaining power should be called the “hubris syndrome” (which shows itself through “manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence”). Interestingly, some hubris can be corrected by recalling past experiences in which the powerful one was less powerful. You may want to read this one.

Power poses are continuing to get bad (very bad) press

In December 2016, we blogged about challenges to Amy Cuddy’s “power posing” research and her famous TED Talk. One of the most recent commenters on the controversy is a blogger over at Mind the Brain blog (one of the PLOS|BLOGS). According to the blogger, the narrative has become overly focused on the harassment of a junior scientist and the need for greater civility in academia (link to the blog post on that in this series of posts). The real narrative, and thus this attempt to restart the conversation, should be (again, according to blogger James Coyne), whether the paper itself had merit in the first place. Coyne thinks the original paper should never have been published and goes to some lengths to develop his argument. If you are interested in a look at why the power posing paper may be a great motivational talk idea, but not particularly good science—take a look at this Mind the Brain blog post.

Do smartphones make us stupid?

Yikes. We know our smartphones are apparently making efforts to control us, but they also apparently “significantly reduce our cognitive capacity” just by being within reach. As you can see in Science Daily:

Ward and his colleagues also found that it didn’t matter whether a person’s smartphone was turned on or off, or whether it was lying face up or face down on a desk. Having a smartphone within sight or within easy reach reduces a person’s ability to focus and perform tasks because part of their brain is actively working to not pick up or use the phone.

“It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones,” said Ward. “The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.”

The question that must now be answered is whether leaving our cell phone at home (or locked in our car) is less distracting than having it with us. You’ll want to see our dang ky nhan tien cuoc mien phiblog post on nomophobia. And maybe our blog post on the FOMO Scale as well. This (being distracted by stuff) is obviously a complicated area and much more (tenure-granting) research is likely needed.

You’ve heard of the imposter syndrome—but what about the racial imposter syndrome?

The imposter syndrome has long been discussed as the secret fear (that is not really so secret) that we will be exposed as imposters pretending to know more than we actually know. The researchers who initially described it, thought it was an experience solely experienced by women. This belief was not accurate.

Now, in 2017, we have the racial imposter syndrome. This is an experience shared by biracial and multi-ethnic people who find they feel “fake” or inauthentic in at least part of their racial heritage. We first heard about this at the NPR podcast Code Switch and their summary of how this works is fascinating if you are interested in identity and how we fail to embrace our full selves through some sense of guilt or shame (or something else). Beyond this episode, Code Switch is a terrific podcast on bias and how to circumvent it.

S-Town: An object lesson in empathy

And speaking of podcasts, if you have not listened to the NSFW (“not suitable for work” listening due to profanity) podcast S-Town—it is amazing. It is like a real life mystery of identity, racism, bias, hidden gold bars, and the state of Alabama. If you are interested in listening to it, do not read the spoilers which are filled with questions of ethics and fair play. Just know there is a very good reason why this is now the most downloaded podcast of all time. If you like mysteries and thrillers or suspense novels, you will love S-Town. Here’s where you can find it–prepare to binge.


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Of course it isn’t a surprise that they are gravely disturbed, but who knew it was neuropsychological?? This is an article from researchers at Northwestern University and looks very specifically at similarities and differences in the neuropsychological test scores of those who killed only children and those who killed some adults as well as children.

The researchers start by telling us that the murder of a child is among the “rarest and least understood categories of homicide”. It is a fairly gruesome inquiry that the researchers say is made all the more necessary with media coverage that has mostly focused on women who kill their children (often in an intense post-partum psychosis). The researchers say that the homicide of children occurs in many contexts and not all of those contexts include mental illness. They carefully review the literature on child homicide and even discuss the differences between mothers and fathers who kill their children. We are going to focus here on the neuropsychological differences between those that kill only children and those who kill adults as well as one or more children.

We also note that this is a small sample of 33 people (27 men and 6 women) convicted of 1st degree murder in three states (i.e., Illinois, Missouri, Indiana) who were referred for forensic neuropsychological evaluations to assess fitness to stand trial, criminal responsibility, or sentencing. Of this small group, the average age was 32 years, 48.5% were Black, 36.4% were Caucasian, and 12.1% were Hispanic while 3.0% were described as “other” in terms of race/ethnicity. The researchers said those convicted murderers who had killed adults as well as children were comparable to what is known of other murderers. However, when they looked at those convicted murderers who had killed children only, a different pattern emerged.

Here is what they report on those murderers who killed only children:

The murders are less likely to be premeditated and the murderer is less likely to have traits associated with premeditation (e.g., a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and/or substance abuse).

Child murderers were more likely to kill with their hands—as by drowning or beating.

Child murderers were more likely to score lower on measures of language and verbal memory (which the researchers link to poor conflict mediation skills).

The researchers suggest that, since those who kill children only, seem to have deficits (intellectual and interpersonal)—it may be useful to identify them and offer training in problem solving and communication skills. They suggest it may take more organization than the “child only” murderers have to kill multiple victims who are both adults and children.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the horror related to a murder of this sort makes it difficult for jurors to consider mitigating circumstances. If these researchers are accurate, these are murderers who used their hands to kill innocent children—very personal and inescapably deliberate— and the act will likely be seen as heinous and unforgivable. Those who kill or abuse children are not viewed positively in the prison environment and there is no reason to believe jurors are going to view them more positively either. Jurors will likely be disgusted by the defendant’s behavior but may also respond well to the idea of the defendant receiving rehabilitative services (such as problem-solving and communication training, anger management, and more) so that there is less likelihood of a similar situation arising in the future. This sort of research can potentially explain why something horrible happened and offer jurors information on rehabilitation strategies that will make history less likely to repeat itself.

Azores-Gococo, N., Brook, M., Teralandur, S., & Hanlon, R. (2017). Killing A Child. Criminal Justice and Behavior. DOI: 10.1177/0093854817699437


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