Neurolaw #SFN11

Yesterday’s big show was the Neuroscience and the Law symposium. Here is a good summary. Most interesting work was Abigail Baird’s–she’s at Vassar College: teenagers apparently get themselves in trouble by too much engagement of their prefrontal cortex rather than trusting their gut (amygdala and insula). That’s completely counter-intuitive to me because I have always viewed the prefrontal cortex as pretty much the last part of the brain to “get wired up” during human development. Her thesis: too much analytic/executive engagement of prefrontal cortex leads to potentially flawed logical decisions (perhaps especially when we haven’t had a lot of experiences) and too much sensitivity to peer pressure.

Lurid stories of neuroscientists

Jim Fallon of UC Irvine is a good friend and former professor. He’s all over the news this week because of he’s found a correlation between his brain imagery, his genetics and those of psychopaths. He’s also apparently related to the famed Lizzie Borden.

But before we go out and profile the population for violent crazies, a couple of important cautions:

First, Jim Fallon is definitely not a psychopath. Having known him for thirty years, loyal readers can rest assured. So the correlation is not sufficient for the phenotype.

Second, it’s likely that there are many varieties of psychopaths. As there are many kinds of cancer, each with its own specific etiology, so there are many brain disorders which may lead to what we might legally call psychopathic behavior. My guess is that the variability here is enormous.