Scishow (a youtube channel run by Hank Green) is an awesome resource for entertaining updates on current science. Here, he talks about the evolution of lying in humans.
Scishow (a youtube channel run by Hank Green) is an awesome resource for entertaining updates on current science. Here, he talks about the evolution of lying in humans.
And finally Part 3 of the saga of the insanity of insanity, plus my sources.
With the introduction of many definitions and criteria for insanity, the public becomes critical of the potential “personal interpretation by jurors,” and lack of concrete dividing line between sanity and insanity (Dawson 143). To many not aware of the workings inside a courtroom, a restrictive definition is a safe definition. However, from a juror’s perspective, concrete scientific evidence such as an fMRI scan tends to remove this interpretation aspect rather than build on it. In a study done by Schweitzer and Saks at Arizona State University, “framing mental illness in biological or neurological terms works to remove some skepticism on the part of jurors by making the underlying mechanism of the mental illness more concrete,” (Schweitzer 604). The real concern with neuroimaging evidence is rather how as it is a relatively new technique, we cannot yet predict behavior from something like prefrontal cortex damage. While frontal lobe damage is highly correlated with criminal activity, there are many affected people who do not engage in such behaviors, so scientists cannot strictly say that it was because of damage that the defendant committed a crime. The closest we they come is saying that prefrontal cortex damage impairs volition, and the inability to control one’s actions can result in crime. But just because we cannot exactly predict the extent of impairment from these neuroimaging tests, doesn’t mean we can ignore the obvious biological connection between brain damage and criminal behavior. After Hinckley’s acquittal, Congress removed the volitional prong of the Model Penal Code because, “impulse control cannot be reliably assessed and that the concept lacked a scientifically sound basis,” (Redding 100) but 30 years later, we now have a more concrete grasp on the biology of volitional control. Sapolsky emphasizes, “most of the neurobiological techniques used to demonstrate PFC abnormalities in humans (predominantly structural and functional brain imaging) did not exist a decade or two ago,” (Sapolsky 1794). But while neuroscience is continually discovering how the brain’s biology is connected to impulse control, the legal system stays stagnant. The persistent use of the M’Naghten rule with complete disregard for mental illnesses addressed by something like the volitional prong of the Model Penal Code is ignoring 30 years of scientific advances that could help save men like Karl Roberts, as well as keep the public safe from their criminal actions.
However, we must go farther than simply patching up a broken rule. Neuroscience is still developing, so at the moment this cannot be the one way to understand insanity – just like M’Naghten can’t be the one rule to define it. In his article, The Brain on Trial, David Eagleman says, “beyond customized sentencing, a forward-thinking legal system informed by scientific insights into the brain will enable us to stop treating prison as a one-size-fits-all solution,” because not everyone has the same brain (Eagleman). As neuroscience becomes a more accurate tool for diagnosis, it can be used more and more in the courts to ensure every defendant gets the treatment if they need it. Adding new prongs to old rules will bring up difficult moral and philosophical questions about free will, and like the Model Penal Code, will be doomed to fail. Instead, neuroscientists like Sapolsky suggest a completely reworked structure to the way courts determine insanity that will be able to quickly adapt to new neurological discoveries as they are made, as well as customize the diagnoses to be accurate, yet inclusive. This new rule will be made up of layers, “with each new layer, add more predictive power,” starting from broad inquiries such as “PFC: normal or damaged” and then leading to more specific data analysis as the diagnosing of mental illnesses progresses in accuracy (Sapolsky 1794). Redding also suggests similar changes such as adding a qualifying test for mental illness defined as, “substantial dysfunction of the frontal lobes and/or limbic system due to brain damage or illness,” (Redding 88). It would be fatal to assume the courts should rely on one definite rule for insanity. Instead, these neurological considerations are a starting point to fix a broken system and provide the safest and fairest court which that takes advantage of all the available insight in the world of law as well as science.
Daniel M’Naghten could not stop the firestorm in his head, and that disorder in his brain had pushed him to crime. “I was driven to desperation by the persecution; I am guilty of firing,” he had said (Aitken, 54). Even he would not have been declared insane by the rule that holds his namesake. His hallucinations and delusions have a clear paranoid schizophrenic characteristic, and while his behaviors could independently have him diagnosed as ‘insane’ in a current hospital, the courts would still find him guilty of his actions because he understood his actions. Currently, evaluations of death row inmates reveal that a great many of them have had head injuries or other forms of mental illness, and yet are still in line waiting to die for actions they may have not been able to control (Redding 57). Jail cannot be used as revenge on people like M’Naghten, Hinckley, or Roberts. Yes, their crimes were terrible, but if an individual has trouble following the rules of society, we must attempt to understand why. Neuroscence is there to help us understand, but the courts keep their heads down and trudge on in the same way they have for hundreds of years. With the neurological advances backing up the forward-thinking systems suggested, how much longer can we keep the blinds up?
Aharoni, Eyal, Chadd Funk, Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, and Michael Gazzaniga. “Can Neurological Evidence Help Courts Asses Criminal Responsibility? Lessons from Law and Neuroscience” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1124 (2008). 145-160.
Aitken, Robert and Marilyn. “The M’Naghten Case: The Queen was Not Amused.” Litigation 36 (2010) 53-56. Web.
Barch, D.M., Y. I. Sheline, J. G. Coemansky, A. Z. Snyder. “Working Memory and Prefrontal Cortex Dysfunction: Specificity to Schizophrenia Compared with Major Depression.” Biological Psychiatry 53 (2003) 376-384. Web.
Dawson, Joseph R. “M’Naghten: Right or Wrong for Florida in the 1980’s? It Flunks the Test.” Nova Law Journal 125 (1982). 125-144. Web.
Eagleman, David “The Brain on Trial.” The Atlantic July/August 2011. <www.theatlantic.com/magazine> Web.
Fuller, Vincent J. “United States v. John W. Hinckley Jr. (1982)” Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 33 (2000) 699-703. Web.
Model Penal Code § 4.01, 1966 Selected Model Penal Code Provisions. Fordham University (2009). Web.
Queen v. M’Naghten 8 English Republic 718. House of Lords. 1843.
Quen, Jacques M. “An Historical View of the M’Naghten Trial.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 42 (1968) 43-51. Web.
Rain, Adrian, Monte Buchsbau, and Lori LaCasse. “Brain Abnormalities in Murderers Indicated by Position Emission Tomography.” Society of Biological Psychiatry 42 (1997). 495-508. Web.
Redding, Richard E. “The Brain-Disordered Defendant: Neuroscience and Legal Insanity in the Twenty-First Century.” American University Law Review 56 (2006) 51-127. Web.
Roberts v. State 102 S.W. 3d 482. Supreme Court of Arkansas. 2003.
Sapolsky, Robert M. “The Frontal Cortex and the Criminal Justice System” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 359 (2004). 1787-1796. Web.
Schweitzer, N.J, Michael J. Saks. “Neuroimage Evidence and the Insanity Defense.” Behavioral Sciences and the Law. 29 (2011). 592-607. Web.
Vlcko, Steve. “People v. Skinner: California reinstates the M’Naghten test for insanity.” Willamette Law Review 22 (1986). 438-443. Web.
When John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot President Ronald Reagan in an attempted assassination in March of 1981, was found not guilty by reason of insanity, the country was outraged. Under the Model Penal Code, Hinckley’s obsession with Jodie Foster was proof of insanity because it had caused him to be “utterly detached from reality,” but the public did not find that to be enough evidence for acquittal, and demanded a stricter definition for insanity (Fuller 700). In response to the heavy commentary, most states “removed the conformity [volitional] prong of the Model Penal Code test and adopted purely cognitive insanity defenses closer to the old M’Naghten rule,” (Aharoni 150). In the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, the federal courts also adopted a completely cognitive insanity defense test, which severely limited the cases in which someone could be found criminally insane. Even though the American Psychiatric Association and the American Bar Association supported this change on the grounds that “impulse control cannot be reliably assessed,” the issue was, “neither organization presented any empirical data to support these claims,” (Redding 99-100).
These efforts to decrease the ambiguity of the insanity plea in light of both the attempted assassinations of Queen Victoria and President Reagan were made to ensure the public that these dangerous criminals not be released prematurely because of insanity. Their understanding, however, completely misses the point of the insanity plea. People ruled not guilty by reason of insanity are not being handed a get out of jail free card, they are sent to a hospital for treatment in order to ensure they will not be a danger to themselves or anyone else in the future. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine, addresses the problem that entire populations of criminals that retain cognitive capacity but cannot regulate behavior are ignored by the M’Naghten rule because of the fact they understand right and wrong. Sapolsky is wary of the criminal justice system’s way of, “labeling, categorizing, and dichotomizing [criminals] despite the fact that so many phenomena that we are exposed to occur as a continua,” because, “a person with impaired volition who has committed a criminal act is less likely to be rehabilitated if incarcerated in prison than if hospitalized psychiatrically,” (Sapolsky 1790). Joseph Dawson adds, “The net result is a disservice to society,” because not only is sending an insane defendant to a hospital rather than a jail better for the individual, but also society as a whole because if they are put in prison rather than a hospital, they will “return to the mainstream of society untreated,” (Dawson 137). This is further supported by the fact that people with volitional issues are immune to the punishment and reward system working to deter further criminal behavior if they are incarcerated. Richard Redding, research professor of psychology at Drexel University, explains that, “frontal lobe dysfunction… is thought to impair the emotional or somatic marking of stimuli marked with reward and punishment, which guides people in using past experience to anticipate the future consequences of their behavior,” and so the very neurological reason they committed the crime is the reason they will not be changed by prison (Redding 72).
One such neurological dysfunction common in convicted criminals is Schizophrenia. Although people had recognized the psychotic episodes of this disease for hundreds of years, a strict diagnosis was unknown until relatively recently. Through genetic and neuroimaging studies, scientists have proven that schizophrenia is a highly heritable brain disorder with “impairments in dorsolateral PFC [prefrontal cortex] function” being a significant symptom specific to the disease (Barch). The delusions, hallucinations and disorganized thinking that characterize schizophrenia cause a patient to “break from reality” that often results in criminal behavior because of their confusion and irrational thinking (Redding 81). Redding explains, “it is the job of the frontal lobes to focus attention and to modify and inhibit behavioral impulses that surge up from the other parts of the brain… frontally damaged people often cannot keep their behavior within the general rules of society,” (Redding 60). It is people like this who cannot control their behavior who are perfect examples of the need for a volitional facet to the insanity rule. The argument the defense made for Hinckley’s insanity included CT scans of his brain indicating he had schizophrenia, and current technology will be even more definitive (Redding 99). With a proper diagnosis, treatment can help these individuals recover from their episodes, and become less of a danger to society.
While the biggest issue in the past for the ‘irresistible impulse’ section of the Model Penal Code was the fact that it was difficult to prove in court, studies in issues such as the role of the frontal lobes in impulse control have found that neuroimaging has the potential to be used as definite evidence in proving insanity. At this stage in scientific advancement, understanding if a defendant could control their actions at the time of a crime could be more definitive than understanding if they cognitively knew right from wrong, which makes the M’Naghten rule obsolete. However, with the M’Naghten rule in place, we are completely ignoring these criminals with volitional problems.
One such case where the M’Naghten rule failed to judge a substantially mentally deficient defendant to be insane occurred to Karl Douglas Roberts, a man who had suffered damage to the frontal lobes at a young age. On May 15th 1999, Roberts raped and murdered 12-year-old Andria Brewer, and in the case that followed, he was sentenced to death by lethal injection. By this point, neuroimagaing and psychiatric tests had progressed to a point that they could diagnose the extent to which Roberts was mentally impaired. In this case, one medical witness Dr. Lee Archer, a neurologist from UAMS, emphasized Roberts’ mental deficiencies, saying, “Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans of Roberts’s brain clearly revealed that a significant part of his right frontal lobe, as well as the medial aspect of his left frontal lobe, and part of his temporal lobe were missing,” due to damage he suffered at age 12 (Roberts v. State). He went on to say it was because of this damage that Roberts committed the crime, stating, “Prior to Karl’s accident in 1980 he had no behavioral problems,” and that “during my examination of him, Karl acted more like an adolescent than an adult,” stressing the role of the damage of his frontal lobe in his lack of appropriate decision-making (Roberts v. State). However, because the defendant confessed to the crimes he had committed, the jury couldn’t find him insane under the M’Naghten Rule because he appeared to have understood the wrongness of his act. Even with the substantial neurological evidence presented by an accredited scientist, because of the purely cognitive approach of the M’Naghten rule, a mentally injured individual was sentenced to death.
An essay I wrote for my English class of all things. My thoughts on the importance of neurology in the courts - and a history including an attempted presidental assassination, some flip flopping of ideals, and the reason Queen Victoria was not amused.
The would-be assassin of Prime Minister Robert Peel addressed the court of his murder trial in 1843: “They wish to murder me,” he had desperately explained, “the Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this; they follow and persecute me wherever I go,” (Quen 43). These paranoid delusions that had haunted him for months persuaded him to go that January afternoon to track down and murder Peel near his home in Whitehall in London. When arriving on Downing Street, the man he believed to be the Prime Minister stepped out of the bank, frowned at him for a passing moment, and moved on. In his hallucinatory state, “all the feelings of months and years rushed into his mind, and he thought that he could only obtain peace by shooting him,” (Aitkin 55). The delusions egged him on as he put the gun to the man’s back, and shot.
Daniel M’Naghten had not known that in his paranoid haze, he had actually shot and killed the secretary to Peel, Edward Drummond. Even after being detained, his delusion continued. “It was Sir Robert Peel, is it not?” he had asked the inspector questioning him (Aitkin 53). Because of M’Naghten’s obvious ill state of mind in the time leading up to and during the crime, his lawyer Alexander Cockburn claimed that the defendant’s mental condition instigated his actions, and therefore he could not be held responsible under English law. His case was made through the use of multiple medical witnesses, all testifying that the state of M’Naghten’s mind during the delusions didn’t allow him to make his own decisions. After deliberation, Lord Chief Justice Tindal found him to be “not guilty on the ground of insanity,” and he was sent to the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at the Bethlem Hospital, where he lived out most of his remaining years. However, this ruling didn’t go over well with Queen Victoria, who because of multiple assassinations attempted on her within the years around M’Naghten’s trial, feared greatly for her safety. She demanded that the House of Lords establish a standard for the legal basis of insanity, and the discussion that followed eventually produced what is now known as the M’Naghten Rule. It states,
"The jurors ought to be told in all cases that every man is presumed to be sane, until the contrary be proved to their satisfaction; and that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity it must be clearly proved, that, at the time of committing the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong. " (Queen v. M’Naghten).
This rule based on the defendant’s knowledge of “right versus wrong” replaced earlier more vague standards of insanity that referred to the criminals as having “total insanity” or acting like a “wild beast” (Quen 45). Because mental illness was difficult to diagnose, and harder to prove in the 19th century, the M’Naghten rule completely ignores this aspect of insanity and instead keeps to a strictly cognitive definition by only examining the defendant’s understanding of his crime. In order to please the public’s sense of safety, it aims to make acquittal by means of insanity as difficult to accomplish as possible.
Queen Victoria’s influence on the matter of criminal insanity was farther reaching than anyone could have ever imagined at the time. After more than 150 years, most of the United States still relies on the M’Naghten rule for defining the grounds of the insanity plea, and this case is still referred to as “the most important insanity plea of all time,” (Quen 49). But while this rule has persisted in courts since the Victorian era, in the world of science of technology hasn’t stopped moving forward with discoveries – especially neuroimaging – that can tell us more about the workings of the mind. These techniques include Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, and Magnetic Resonance Imagery (MRI) scans, both of which show brain structure and function for an individual compared to a population average. An ancient rule like M’Naghten that serves as a proxy for determining of insanity should be updated to reflect all the new information on brain functions that we have learned in the past 150 years. So, how can we incorporate new scientific findings into the legal system smoothly?
The insanity plea has not stayed stagnant for all those years, but in a struggle between ensuring a fair trial for criminals with mental deficiencies, and showing the public that the courts were punishing at the full extent of the law, somehow the M’Naghten rule kept showing its tired face again and again. From the creation of the M’Naghten rule, there have been skeptics saying the test was too strict, and almost impossible for many insane people to completely fall under. Eleven years after the M’Naghten trial, psychiatrist Forbes Winslow called the black and white nature of the right-and-wrong test, “worthless and practically inapplicable,” because mental insanity doesn’t exist on the strict guilty/not guilty divide that law does (Quen 51). Constant debate over the test in the United States led to changes in the way insanity was tested, most important of which was the Model Penal Code. It is an insanity standard drafted by the American Law Institute in 1962 and was adopted by more than half the states by 1980 (Redding 84) and states:
A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. (Model Penal Code)
As opposed to a purely cognitive rule like M’Naghten, the Model Penal Code is a two-pronged test that adds a volitional statement allowing for defendants with a mental disease to plead insanity. The importance of the volitional rule is that it includes people who acted on an “irresistible and uncontrollable impulse [that was an] involuntary act of the body, without the concurrence of the mind directing it,” (Dawson 140). By using a rule that distances itself from the black and white nature of the M’Naghten rule, courts were judging criminals on a broader spectrum more reflective of our understanding of the complexity of the human mind. However, the fix proved not to be permanent, and as soon as the Model Penal Code was gaining popularity throughout the United States, a series of events similar to the circumstances surrounding Queen Victoria the creation of the M’Naghten rule forced the ancient test back into courts.
So, I guess now I can blame my brain on my horrible sense of direction. This podcast explains how we find our way around, remember where we are, know what is around us. Also, what happens when these mechanisms go wrong...
-Radiolab podcast, season 9 episode 2
Oliver Sacks has a new book out called The Mind's Eye where he explores how our eyes and brain interact to form the world we see. He accounts some amazing case studies of people who have become blind, or recovered from a sort of blindness, and how their brains adjust to the new environment.
In this video, he talks about something called Face Blindness, or Prosopagnosia, which he himself suffers from.
Sacks, Oliver. The Mind's Eye. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
Synesthesia is the blending of senses: where a stimulus for one sense such as sight or hearing, leads to the involuntary activation of another such as smell or touch. (For cognitive pathways in general). It comes in many forms, and the cause is still being debated. The main theory is that we are all born with synesthesia, and eventually lose the connective pathways until we only experience a stimulus in one particular area of the brain. People who experience these later in life are called synesthetes.
I've always been fascinated by this condition. I would think it would add another dimension to the world, and allow for creativity like it did for Kandinsky's art, or Duke Ellington's jazz (both said to have been synesthetes).
There are many different kinds: Grapheme-Color is the connection of numbers and letters to colors, and is the most common. Sound - Color is common as well, and is when people see colors when they hear sounds or music. All types of synesthesia are highly personal; each experiences their synesthesia their own way. For example, the letter P might be Blue to one person, or Purple to another, and it disturbs them to think of it any differently. (Which makes reading colored print difficult.) A girl in my gym class said her favorite number was something like 245 because of the color it was). In sound - color synesthetes, the sound which produces a certain color may vary. Some experience a color for a specific pitch (such as a B flat) or for a certain key of music ("C minor is dark green!") or for a specific instrument (One man describes french horns as an awful color, so refuses to listen to symphonies that feature that instrument.) Other even stranger types include personification (ordered sequences have personalities), and lexical gustatory (words to taste) synesthesia.