CogniFit's Science blog: Responsibility And Punishment Through Neuroscience

Responsibility And Punishment Through Neuroscience

With continuous research on the brain day in and day out, researchers are now making new findings about responsibility and punishment through neuroscience. It is teaching scientists about the neural substrates of human characteristics based around anger, impulse control and conscience. The hope is that it will shed new light on personal responsibilities.

There has been an ongoing understanding that the brain is the control center for all actions and decisions humans make. This has long challenged the concept of free will being the basis for personal responsibility. What this has done is create an array of questions that have gone one unanswered for years and years.

“If the brain is the source of all action, do we hold the person less responsible for his actions when the brain is damaged? Does antisocial behavior itself provide evidence of a maladapted or miswired brain, or do we need physical evidence of trauma or disease?”

Neuroscience goes far beyond the spectrum of criminal behavior as it is looking how more normal members of society create and enforce the laws that criminals violate. Some weighing in on the issue believe increasing neuroscience knowledge could challenge fundamental tenets of criminal law while others feel small changes will lead to accurate, fair judgments.

In an effort to better predict behavior, neuroimaging and genetic screening has been used to do just that while also predicting personality and disease. Thus far, it has been done with terrific accuracy. Neuroimaging has also been used for lie detection for consumer targets like national security, employment screening, the legal system and even with personal relationships.

Neuroscience technologies are constantly advancing creating a far better assessment of behavior. However, this does bring out the concern of privacy and fairness that some believe goes far beyond ethics. How far can you really go with this research before it becomes offensive?

Can you begin to measure intelligence with imaging? Should we look at the risk for violence and the amount of empathy people have? If someone has never committed a crime but shows inappropriate brain-based reactions, do they deserve to be locked away or have further monitoring?

Neuroscience and neuroimaging can detect lying to a great degree and can have a major impact on society. The tricky part of the equation is not stepping on too many people’s toes and making sure there are careful controls and years of further research before any validity can be established.

Virtually everyone has lied at some point in their life; everyone has a difference reason under different circumstances to do so. Not everyone lies to cause harm, but there is a fine line between. Neuroscience and the prediction of individual’s behavior to determine truthfulness will undoubtedly be major areas of research in the coming years.