Monday, January 30, 2006

Improving law through neuroscience

The insights from brain science has the potential to alter the making and practice of law. But how and why? What is so special about brain science that gives it this potent source of change?

Let's reverse that question by asking: what is so good about our current models about human thought, motivation and behaviour that makes us certain that our laws reflect the most correct view of human behaviour? I thought so; I don't feel the slightest confident that our current models of the mind are merely good enough (by our scientific standards).

Luckily, our models are improving -- from day to day, some would say. It's definitely not a linear progress, IOW that each new publication makes an added improvement to our understanding. The battle of theories are still dominating the field, so whether you choose to go with Damasio or Rolls on the issue of decision making, it will have an influence on the laws you make. But whatever use we make of such models, be it law systems, educational practices or child rearing, we should use the most up to date and most supported models.

This is suggested in a thorough and comprehensive (and very long) article by Owen Jones and Timothy Goldsmith. Jones and Goldsmith argue that better understanding of the biology of behaviour makes better laws. I won't brag with reading the entire document, but I will do. If I stumble across anything especially important (which is likely) I'll drop a note.

Here is the abstract. Get the full article here (PDF).
See also a story in Medical News Today

Owen D. Jones & Timothy H. Goldsmith

Society uses law to encourage people to behave differently than they would behave in the absence of law. This fundamental purpose makes law highly dependent on sound understandings of the multiple causes of human behavior. The better those understandings, the better law can achieve social goals with legal tools.

In this Article, Professors Jones and Goldsmith argue that many long-held understandings about where behavior comes from are rapidly obsolescing as a consequence of developments in the various fields constituting behavioral biology. By helping to refine law’s understandings of behavior’s causes, they argue, behavioral biology can help to improve law’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Part I examines how and why law and behavioral biology are connected.
Part II provides an introduction to key concepts in behavioral biology.
Part III identifies, explores, and illustrates a wide variety of contexts in which behavioral biology can be useful to law.
Part IV addresses concerns that sometimes arise when considering biological influences on human behavior.


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