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Crime and punishment: The neurobiological roots of modern justice
Date:4/18/2012

small human societies, there is evidence that the evolution of our large-scale societies hinged on a different, and more characteristically human form of interaction, namely third-party punishment ("I punish you because you harmed him").

The codification of social norms into laws and the institutionalization of third-party punishment "is arguably one of the most important developments in human culture," the paper states.

According to the researchers' model, which is based on the latest behavioral, cognitive and neuro-scientific data, third-party punishment grew out of second-party punishment and is implemented by a collection of cognitive processes that evolved to serve other functions but were co-opted to make third-party punishment possible.

In the modern criminal justice system, judges and jury members impartial third-party decision-makers are tasked to evaluate the severity of a criminal act, the mental state of the accused and the amount of harm done, and then integrate these evaluations with the applicable legal codes and select the most appropriate punishment from available options. Based on recent brain mapping studies, Buckholtz and Marois propose a cascade of brain events that take place to support the cognitive processes involved in third-party punishment decision-making. Specifically, they have localized these processes to five distinct areas in the brain two in the frontal cortex, which is involved in higher mental functions; the amygdala deep in the brain that is associated with emotional responses; and two areas in the back of the brain that are involved in social evaluation and response selection.

According to Buckholtz and Marois' model, punishment decisions are preceded by the evaluation of the actions and mental intentions of the criminal defendant in a social evaluation network comprised of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ).

While it is often assumed that legal
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Contact: David Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert

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