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AU Scholars | Spring 2017 Research Courses

“My Brain Made Me Do It!” - Problems in Neurolaw

Course Time: TH 11:20 AM to 2:10 PM

Description: This course invites you to investigate contemporary problems in neurolaw! Neurolaw is a developing discipline at the intersection of law, neuroscience and philosophy. Advocates of neurolaw claim that recent scientific discoveries about the brain, and especially about the nature of human cognition, can be used to advance the goals of the criminal justice system. Some applications cited by neurolaw proponents include more objective ways of assessing people’s true mental capacity and thus their responsibility, more accurate ways of predicting individuals’ propensities to commit crime, and the design of more effective laws due to greater insight into what actually motivates humans to act in different ways. Some proponents of neurolaw even claim that neuroscience conclusively shows that there is no such thing as responsibility, and hence that the law should be radically reformed in a more compassionate anti-retributivist direction that focuses on deterrence, prevention and reform. Students will be introduced to this exciting new interdisciplinary field by examining arguments from advocates and opponents of using neuroscience to inform the criminal law. This will allow students to assess for themselves just how much of what is claimed is hype and science fiction, and how much is supported by the science and the related arguments. Students will work with a group of their peers to develop and execute a research project that contributes contemporary debates on neurolaw. Research projects will be presented in April at the AU Scholars Spring Research Symposium. Project ideas include videos or other digital representations that identify newly explored regions of the brain that are relevant to the criminal law and join the existing scholarly discussion. 

Students will develop interdisciplinary research skills in this course by examining both empirical evidence and normative arguments that figure prominently into contemporary debates about the uses and limitations of neuroscience to the criminal law. Specific skills that will be developed include critical inquiry, innovative thinking, and ethical reasoning. 

I invite you to check out the following New York Times article to get a sampling of the exciting area of research we will investigate in my course next spring! 

 "The Brain on the Stand"