- Published: October 31, 2012
Neuroscience is not only changing the way we think about defendants’ minds; it may also change the way we think about jurors, and the decisions they make. Some neurological research suggests that we will be able to reveal a juror’s bias before they are assigned to a case. Although this research is premature, it may have the effect of changing the way we select jurors. Sahlberg, a neuroscience reporter, claims that “every juror has certain beliefs, feelings, and attitudes that lend themselves to decision-making. These types of beliefs are embedded into a juror’s mind, and it is unrealistic to believe that jurors will be able to set aside all of these “embedded beliefs” when making a decision in the courtroom.” (1) Neuroscience might be able to expose these rooted biases, eliminating certain people from the juror selection process.
Lawyers and the courts try to eliminate jurors with biases; jurors need to be able to deliberate in an open-minded way. However eliminating bias is very difficult, if not impossible; most people are not even aware of their biases. fMRI may be able to asses certain types of unconscious bias in subjects. Perhaps the most studied bias using fMRI are racial prejudices (2).
At Yale Law School, researchers found that brain scans may better predict a juror’s racial bias than previously established methods of testing. Although some colleagues are skeptical of this research, the general scientific community agrees with this improved bias-detection method. In this method, participants are asked to associate images of black and white faces with positive, negative, and neutral adjectives, according to a set of rules. While participants perform this test, an MRI machine measures neural activity, tracking changes in blood flow across brain regions (1). Certain regions of interest may become more activated, potentially uncovering subconscious biases.
“We are not suggesting that people go out and start scanning jurors, but it does raise the issue that unconscious bias is a problem and we should be looking for ways to counteract it”, wrote Korn, a coauthor of the study (1). As of now, the high cost of a scan would immediately eliminate this potential use in juror selection; a typical MRI costs about a thousand dollars. But perhaps in the future, lawyers will be able to use brain scans to exclude certain jurors who may not be sympathetic to their argument (3).
Regardless of the success of the technology, a large question at hand is whether or not courts should be able to use this information in the jury selection process (3). Today it would seem as if the answer is that we are not ready to apply this kind of technology just yet. Someday however, it may be possible to use neuroscience, which may include brain scans such as fMRI, in the jury selection process and directly in the courtroom.