By Emily Rehmet, '20
For decades, neuroscientists have developed novel neuroscience technologies with the promise of revolutionizing decision-making in courtrooms. As devices such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalograms (EEGs) have become more advanced, we have been able to obtain information about the states of others that could contribute towards a conviction. We can start answering questions such as is the person on the stand lying or not? Has the defendant seen this object before at the crime scene? How does the defendant feel towards the victim?
However, not all of these technologies are wanted. They are even feared. This is rooted in the dark history of the use of neuroscience technologies, most infamously in the use of the polygraph, an interrogation tool used by the United States law enforcement and a multitude of federal government agencies, despite its lack of effectiveness and accuracy . In 2008, in Mumbai, India, a woman was accused of murder based on circumstantial evidence of a brain scan “proving” culpability . The use of these types of technologies in criminal cases have created fear in the public and wariness around these types of devices.
But according to a recently conducted study from the University of Minnesota Journal of Law and the Biosciences, the effects of brain imaging may have little effect on juries . Shen et al. conducted two experiments in which participants acted as jury members in a trial of two scenarios; in one, they had to determine the guilt or innocence of an employee accused of stealing a diamond necklace, and in the second, they had to determine whether or not a stock trader saw a memo with insider information. To see how much neuroscience technology evidence can affect juries, they manipulated different neuroscience technology results into the experiment (incriminating polygraph evidence, and exculpating polygraph evidence, incriminating brain evidence, and exculpating brain evidence) alongside the strength of the non-neuroscientific evidence (story) against the defendant. EEG technology, which works by placing electrodes on the human scalp and measuring the resulting brain activity, provides evidence of memory recognition based on EEG patterns signaling if the person thinks the scenario is familiar (more positive waveforms) or unfamiliar.
The experiment found that evidence of memory recognition from the EEG technologies affected the final court decision, but that the effect was not as large as the strength of the case against the defendant. Furthermore, participant confidence was not significantly affected by the strength of the case or the EEG memory evidence .
So before we turn to shutting down the possibilities of this new technology, we should consider the rationalizing that goes into the minds of jurors. We should limit the barriers of its admissibility in the courtroom, and consider the potential, valuable uses before being so quick to judge.
 Iacono, William G. (2001). Forensic “lie detection”. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 1(1), 75-86. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J158v01n01_05
 Deceiving the law. (2008). Nature Neuroscience, 11, 1231. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/nn1108-1231
 Shen, F. X., Twedell, E., Opperman, C., Krieg, J. D. S., Brandt-Fontaine, M., Preston, J., . . . Carlson, M. (2017). The limited effect of electroencephalography memory recognition evidence on assessments of defendant credibility. Journal of Law and the Biosciences, 4(2), 330-364. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/jlb/article/4/2/330/3796509
 University of Minnesota. (2017, June 21). Recognition technology a step closer to use in courtroom: Jurors could soon appropriately integrate brain-based memory reading evidence in evaluation of criminal defendants. Available at: Science Daily website: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170621165919.htm
Emily Rehmet is a Bachelor of Arts Candidate in the Cognitive Neuroscience and Public Policy Departments at Brown University. She is interested in the intersection between neuroscience, women's health, and criminal justice reform.
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