Brain & Behavior: An inseparable pair even in the legal system?

Sparked by the mind-body problem discussed in LeDoux’s chapter called Seeking the Self, I remembered an article a friend had sent me over the summer discussing the effects of brain tumors on your behavior. In the article The Brain on Trial, the scene starts by describing Charles Whitman, a young man who one day killed 13 people and wounded 32 others to fulfill an uncharacteristic, irrational desire for violence and aggression. He had left a note behind requesting an autopsy claiming that something had changed in his brain because on paper his experiences as an Eagle Scout and volunteer make him to seem like a stand up guy. In fact, an autopsy revealed that Charles Whitman had a brain tumor that was compressing his amygdala, a key player in emotional regulation.

Charles Whitman is just one of many interesting cases the article describes as it stresses that, “human behavior cannot be separated from human biology”. Small changes in brain chemistry has the power to affect decision-making and one’s desires. The limits of how we should interpret this knowledge are the hard part.

The article goes on to try to answer if the role neuroscience should play when it comes to legally dealing with criminal acts. Lots of interesting points discuss how brains are extremely different (epigenetics and nature/nurture references made!*) and all adult don’t have the capacity to make good choices. Legally however, how do we deal with people like Charles Whitman who took innocent lives? It wasn’t intentional, but it was still done and families of deceased loved ones often feel the need for some type of closure or justice. As neuroscience grows it is interesting seeing it be able to take part in debates on things such as morality and legality.

Epigenetics reference= “And every experience throughout our lives can modify genetic expression-activating certain genes or switching others off-which in turn can inaugurate new behaviors.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-brain-on-trial/8520/2/?single_page=true

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