Neuroscience and Law Seminar

Can your brain turn you in? Brain reading, mental privacy, and the law

Course synopsis and goals:

Until now, the mind has been kept safe and private within the stronghold of the cranium. Now, a new generation of brain imaging devices, combined with increasingly sophisticated pattern-recognition systems, is approaching a level that could be called “mind reading.” With important limitations, these systems can show how brains operate when a person is or is not telling the truth, is experiencing different physical states, like pain, or is experiencing various emotions, like craving or arousal. Some systems even purport to predict future behavior, decode dreams, and erase or implant memories. These brain-based technologies raise pressing legal challenges, of two basic kinds. First, when should they be allowed in legal contexts, like law enforcement investigations and in civil cases? Second, what kinds of laws should we start to make about the uses of brain-reading devices in areas like employment, recreation, and medical care?

This course will first introduce several brain imaging technologies, with a focus on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalogram (EEG). It then will look at legal uses of lie detection, pain and emotion detection, neuropredictions of dangerousness and other future behavior, and uses of brain reading in commercial and employment applications. The goals of this course are to introduce students to brain imaging technologies and brain anatomy, and to legal doctrines that permit and limit the uses of these technologies. Its overarching aim is to enhance students’ abilities to be critical readers of claims about science and technology in popular media, scientific studies, and legal literature.

Evaluation: Combination of in-class simulations and individual and group writing exercises (e.g., chance to draft a statute); final paper.

This course is not currently scheduled.
Last offered Spring 2020.

Key to Codes in Course Descriptions
P: Prerequisite
C: Prerequisite or Concurrent Requirement
R: Recommended Prior or Concurrent Course