Neuroscience and the law: philosophical differences and practical constraints

Behav Sci Law. 2009 Mar-Apr;27(2):123-36. doi: 10.1002/bsl.853.


Controversies surrounding the value of neuroscience as forensic evidence are explored from the perspective of the philosophy of mind, as well as from a practical analysis of the state of the scientific research literature. At a fundamental philosophical level there are profound differences in how law and neuroscience view the issue of criminal responsibility along the continuum from free will to determinism. At a more practical level, significant limitations in the current state of neuroimaging research constrain its ability to inform legal decision-making. Scientifically supported and unsupported forensic applications for brain imaging are discussed, and recommendations for forensic report writing are offered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Criminal Law / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Decision Making*
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / physiopathology
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / psychology
  • Forensic Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Morals
  • Neurosciences / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Philosophy*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Psychological Theory
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon
  • Violence / psychology