- Published: November 7, 2012
Although neuroscience has made a relatively new appearance in the courtroom, often using exciting neurological technology to make arguments, some argue that certain technologies should not be used in courtroom debates. Sometimes neurological technology can be overwhelming to the common juror, immediately swaying their decisions. Others also argue that many “neurotechnologies” are not yet perfected. Researchers using technology, like fMRI, may not be correctly interpreting the brain; many neuroscientists argue about what brain activation shows us (1).
Because neuroscience uses technology that is relatively complex, it is unreasonable for a juror to always understand the significance of such evidence. Although neuroscience in the courtroom is exciting, some technologies, such as fMRI, are not ideal in debates. Researchers have found that jurors often find the evidence to be overwhelming, and may not question the significance of the technology. Sometimes neurological technology, although it is less than definitive, can be presented in a way that is “magical” (2). Jurors are often swayed by this evidence even though they may have a poor understanding of the technology.
Besides this fact, certain neurological technologies are not perfect, meaning that they only suggest a particular result. Disalvo claims that “using certain technology, such as fMRI, in the courtroom is ethically troubling because neuroscientists are not in universal agreement about the correct interpretation of brain imaging” (3). For instance, fMRI brain imaging shows which parts of the brain are activated with a given set of stimuli, however, this “activation” does not prove anything about a person’s cognition. If a person’s hypothalamus becomes activated when food is presented to them, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hungry (the hypothalamus may be responsible for appetite regulation). Because these kinds of conclusions are only speculative, it is difficult to say that technology, like fMRI, will be able to show definite results, even though the jury might interpret these results as perfect (3). When a lawyer presents an argument using complicated neurological technology, jurors may become overwhelmed with its complexity and may decide to simply “agree” with the technology that seems to strongly suggest that a defendant is guilty, mentally impaired, etc. Researchers suggest that this is why certain technologies should not be allowed in the courtroom.
Some argue that complicated DNA technology, which is often used in court cases, is very similar to neurological technology. However, the general consensus among neuroscientists is that some neurological technology is too indefinite; DNA technology seems to be less subjective than certain kinds of neurological technology because scientists understand how DNA works, but most neurologists cannot exactly explain human cognition from a biological perspective (4).
As of now, most neurologists in the field would argue that certain technology like MRI, which only shows structural patterns in the brain, could be useful in interpreting brain damage, but other technologies like fMRI, which shows local brain activation, seems too subjective to be used in a court of law. It is pretty clear that some neurological technology should not be used in the courtroom, while other technology could prove to be useful.