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Law & Brain Student Group

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Neuroscience has the potential to influence the law in several ways:

The law, in large part, seeks to modify people's behavior. Brain states play a causal role in behavior. Understanding this part of the causal process might lead to better appreciation of how to shape behavior.

The law is concerned with notions of desert. Can neuroscience help the law understand common factors, or specific conditions, that may pertain to desert? More radically, do neuroscientific findings suggest, as some claim, that no one is ever responsible for his or her behavior?

More generally, the law works in a landscape of mental events, such as intentions, decisions, memories, knowledge, ideas, and conceptions. Neuroscience is uncovering the physical correlates of these events, which may allow the law to better navigate this landscape. For example, the science of false memories may improve the overarching legal standards concerning eyewitness identifications, and it could also help a judge or jury evaluate the reliability of such evidence in a specific case.

Neuroscience and evolutionary theory also seek to explain the law’s current doctrines and practices. For instance, are there valid evolutionary explanations for why the law punishes people in ways that limit their reproductive success? Are there neural correlates that suggest why society views some torts as more serious than others? Can neuroscience help us understand how the human mind evaluates a case or evidence, and why different judges and juries often reach widely different conclusions?

Finally, neuroscience is changing the larger society. Neuromarketing, cognitive enhancing drugs, memory-blocking techniques, brain uploading, and innumerable other neuroscience applications that have paradigm-shifting potential are already here or on the horizon. The law needs to respond to the ethical and legal implications of neuroscience in other fields.

In sum, the Law and Brain Student Group hosts lectures and activities that address these questions in a responsible and non-sensationalist manner to help society use discoveries from neuroscience to further its ideals of justice and equality, not undermine them.


Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz

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Gabriel is in his second-year of the joint JD/Master of Bioethics program at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Before coming to Penn, Gabriel obtained a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Puerto Rico and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from New York University. Gabriel’s doctoral research at the Laboratory of Professor Joseph E. LeDoux focused on the role of the amygdala in fear-motivated behaviors. Gabriel is interested in science public policy particularly in promoting scientific development and exploring sustainable ways of implementing technological advances into society.

Law & Brain Student Group Lectures will begin again in Fall 2013


Past speakers have included:

October 20, 2011 – Oliver R. Goodenough, JD,
Professor of Law, Vermont Law School and Faculty Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University
Title: How Does Law Live in a Brain? Neuroscience, Law and Institutional Design
Location: Gittis 2 (3400 Chestnut St.)

January 19, 2012 – Adam Kolber, JD, Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School
Title: The Privacy of Our Thoughts and Feelings
Location: Silverman Hall, Room 240B (3400 Chestnut St.)

March 15, 2012 – Rita Z. Goldstein, PhD, Tenured Scientist, Medical Research, Brookhaven National Laboratory
Title: Targeting the Prefrontal Cortex and Cognition for Intervention in Addiction: Legal & Social Implications of Addiction as a Disorder of the Brain
Location: Gittis 214 (3400 Chestnut St.)

April 19, 2012 – Paul W. Glimcher, PhD, Professor of Neural Science, Economics, and Psychology, New York University
Title: Neurobiological Evidence of a Cardinal Utility Signal: Implications for Welfare in Political Economy
Location: Silverman Hall, Room 240B (3400 Chestnut St.)

If you would like to learn more about the Penn Law & Brain Student Group, send an email to Gabriel Lázaro This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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