Overgeneralizing the adolescent brain
A general challenge to the use of neuroscientific evidence in legal settings, Wagner says, is that most studies are at the group rather than the individual level. "The law cares about a particular individual in a particular situation right in front of them," he says, and the science often cannot speak to that specificity.
Shen cites the challenge of making individualized inference from group-based data as one of the major ones facing use of neuroscience evidence in the court. "This issue has come up in the context of juvenile justice, where the adolescent brain development data confirms behavioral data that on average 17-year-olds are more impulsive than adults, but does not tell us whether a particular 17-year-old, namely the one on trial, was less able to control his/her actions on the day and in the manner in question," he says.
Indeed, B.J. Casey of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University says that too often we overgeneralize the lack of self control among adolescents. Although adolescents do show poor self control as a group, some situations and individuals are more prone to this breakdown than others.
"It is not that teens can't make decisions, they can and they can do so efficiently," Casey says. "It is when they must make decisions in the heat of the moment in presence of potential or perceived threats, among peers that the court should consider diminished responsibility of teens while still holding them accountable for their behavior." Research suggests that this diminished ability is due to the immature development of circuitry involved in processing of negative or positive cues in the environment in the subcortical limbic regions and then in regulating responses to those cues in the prefrontal cortex.'/>"/>
|Contact: Lisa M.P. Munoz|
Cognitive Neuroscience Society