About the Book

Law and Neuroscience is the first coursebook to cover the newly emerging field that explores both the promise within and the limitations of the intersection of these two disciplines. The 2nd Edition, published in 2020, includes many major updates. We substantially revised most chapters, in light of new scientific knowledge and legal developments. The revisions reflect current knowledge, and include new excerpts, new notes, new questions, and new advice about cutting- edge sources for further reading. The purposes of the book remain the same, as does the overarching structure described below.


New techniques for discovering brain function (and dysfunction) have developed at a remarkable rate. The growth in brain-scanning methods has commensurately increased efforts to introduce neuroscientific evidence in civil and criminal courts, and to use neuroscientific evidence in a number of other legal and policy contexts.

This book has four main purposes:

  1. to introduce readers to how brain science is (and is not) already being used in a number of legal contexts;
  2. to provide a user-friendly foundation for understanding how the human brain works, and how new techniques are being used to study, monitor and manipulate the brain;
  3. to examine pathways by which neuroscience may aid, or harm, the legal system; and
  4. to help students think critically about the present status and future possibilities of the law/neuroscience intersection.

The book includes engaging, informative, and provocative excerpts from cases, commentary, scientific articles, and news accounts. Dispersed through each chapter are notes and questions designed to challenge, provoke, inform, and inspire.

Book Structure

The book is divided into five Parts. The first three Parts provide overview, explain contexts, and provide the necessary grounding in the fundamentals. The fourth Part explores particular law-relevant contexts in greater depth. The fifth Part examines the future implications of technologies currently in development.

Students and Professors alike will find Law and Neuroscience to be accessible and user-friendly. No science background is assumed or required.

The five parts of the book are organized as follows:

Part 1: Introduction. This two-chapter Part is designed to galvanize student interest, and to expose students to the breadth of topics covered in the book.

  • Chapter 1, titled “Law and Neuroscience: An Overview of Issues,” provides a broad survey of the kinds of intriguing and provocative issues they’ll encounter.
  • Chapter 2, titled “The Case of the Murdering Brain,” introduces a 1992 murder case, in which the defense sought to introduce visually arresting images of the defendant’s brain to support an insanity defense. The defining question here is: how much can the brain scans of an individual tell us about the impairments of his decisions, the causes of his behavior, his responsibility for his actions, and his capacity for self-control.

Part 2: Fundamentals of Cognitive Neuroscience. This three-chapter Part provides a user-friendly introduction to the basics of neuroscience that a non-neuroscientist should know.

  • Chapter 3, titled “Brain Structure and Brain Function,” begins with a tour for non-scientists of how the brain and its constituent parts are organized. It then explains the fundamentals of how brains, through their neurons and other cells, function to enable sensing, processing, thinking, feeling, and behaving.
  • Chapter 4, titled “Brain Monitoring and Manipulation,” provides an introduction to the various techniques and methods scientists use to study brain structure and brain function.
  • Chapter 5, titled “Limits and Cautions,” warns against inappropriate uses and interpretations of brain data. Having explored in the preceding chapters what scientists can do, this chapter presents the equally important considerations of what the techniques don’t do. The key message here is the importance of distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate inferences. The chapter includes very practical information.

Part 3: Brain, Behavior, and Responsibility. This three-chapter Part provides the conceptual fundamentals and the context.

  • Chapter 6, titled “Relationships of Law, Science, and Behavior,” transitions from case-specific inquiries to some first principles, namely: How do the separate domains of law, science, and behavior relate to one another? What are the purposes and roles of Law in society? How may Science help or hinder those purposes? And what can Science tell us about behavior that might be legally relevant, and how?
  • Chapter 7, titled “Behavior, Responsibility, and Punishment: Views from Law and Neuroscience,” exposes students to fundamental questions about what it means to be morally and legally responsible, and what, if anything, neuroscience can provide to our assessments of individual responsibility for actions.
  • Chapter 8, titled “Neuroscience in the Courtroom: Assessing Scientific Evidence,” provides excerpts from a variety of legal cases to provide an introduction to how courts make admissibility decisions about neuroscientific evidence, and how that evidence is received by jurors. The chapter provides rich detail on a 2010 case in which brain evidence persuaded jurors to give a convicted murderer life without parole instead of the death penalty.

Part 4: Core Themes in Law and Neuroscience. The first three Parts of the coursebook have provided attention-focusing overviews, fundamentals of brain science, and conceptual background. Part 4 now provides, in three Sections, deeper substantive exploration of legally relevant topics in the broad domains of: brain injuries; the processes of thinking and feeling; and the special challenges of adolescent and addicted brains.

The Injured Brain

  • Chapter 9. Brain Death
  • Chapter 10. Brain Injury
  • Chapter 11. Pain and Distress
  • Chapter 12. Addicted Brains

The Thinking and Feeling Brain

  • Chapter 13. Memory
  • Chapter 14. Emotions
  • Chapter 15. Lie Detection
  • Chapter 16. Judging

The Developing and Aging Brain

  • Chapter 17. Adolescent Brains
  • Chapter 18. Aging Brains

Part 5: The Future. The three-chapter Part 5 turns eyes toward the future. It provides information about where neuroscience and related disciplines are heading, in several domains that students will find alternately exciting and troubling.

  • Chapter 19, titled “Cognitive Enhancement,” explores the ways that drugs and other brain-intervention technologies are enabling people to improve their cognitive capacities, in ways that pose interesting challenges for ethics, law, and policy.
  • Chapter 20, titled “Brain-Machine Interface and Law,” introduces students to the potential legal and societal implications of technologies that enable people to control machines with their minds.
  • Chapter 21, titled “Artificial Intelligence, Robots, and Law,” explores the current state of the A.I. field, and the growing legal implications as machines become more intelligent, more capable, and more powerful.


Teacher’s Manual

A Teacher’s Manual provides chapter-by-chapter guidance on how to teach the materials.

Professors who are considering using the book for a class can receive instructions on how to download the Teacher’s Manual by simply emailing Francis Shen.