Why neuroscience changes some things but not everything for the law.

Catley, Paul and Claydon, Lisa (2023). Why neuroscience changes some things but not everything for the law. In: Swaab, Hanna and Meynen, Gerben eds. Handbook of Clinical Neurology, Volume 197. Elsevier, pp. 251–264.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-821375-9.00016-5


Neuroenthusiasts and neuroskeptics both exaggerate the strength of their positions. Neuroscience is already having a significant impact in the courts in many jurisdictions and as knowledge from the cognitive sciences expands, that knowledge, wherever relevant, should continue to inform legal systems. However, neuroscience will only ever be one influence among many. In certain areas, for example, our understanding of fear responses or the reliability of memory evidence, the cognitive sciences may help challenge errors of folk psychology and assist the law to adopt better approaches. In other areas such as juvenile responsibility, developmental neuroscience may prove decisive in reinforcing messages from educational psychology and the behavioral sciences both in persuading legislators and judges but also importantly in altering public attitudes. Drawing on examples from a range of countries including Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, the Netherlands, Scotland, Slovenia, and the United States, we argue that legal systems must be open to and learn from science and must not be afraid to engage with science even where there is no clear scientific consensus.

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