Does Neuroscientific Evidence Bias Legal Decision-Making? Some Preliminary Findings

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Abstract:

Findings from neuroscience research are increasingly advancing our understandings of the neural correlates of human behaviour, cognition and emotion. These findings are beginning to gain visibility in the legal system, including the courtroom. To an increasing extent, judges are being confronted with neuroscientific evidence concerning the degree to which the suspect should be held criminally responsible, the likelihood of future offending and the presence of emotional pain. By directly measuring brain activity, neurotechnologies hold the promise of increasing the quality of evidence in legal proceedings, and could therefore be of great value to the legal system. However, such practice has important implications including the possibility that neuroscientific evidence is overly persuasive and thereby unduly affects legal decision-making. The presentation of visual information, i.e. brain images, may even increase this effect. In fact, several researchers have recently raised the concern that neuroscientific evidence, especially brain images, may be perceived in court without sufficient critical appraisal and should therefore be inadmissible in court. However, there is currently limited empirical support for this claim, which raises the risk of drawing premature and invalid conclusions regarding the responsible use of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom. The present paper discusses the findings of recent studies on the influence of neuroscience information on people's perceptions and presents some preliminary empirical findings concerning the effect of neuroscientific evidence on legal decision-making.

Keywords: BRAIN IMAGES; CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY; LEGAL DECISION-MAKING; NEUROSCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5235/175799611798204941

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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