Research Proposal: Brain Scans as Evidence

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Brain Scans as Evidence

"Brain images provide insight to understanding behavior.

Additionally, the images themselves carry great impact, particularly when used to show differences in either the anatomy or the biological functioning of two different brains.

For these reasons, brain images have increasingly been used

in both criminal and civil trials"

Even though images from brain scans may be used as "evidence" in trials, researchers regularly relate a number of concerns that currently challenge the perception the quote introducing this study asserts. In fact, lshani Ganguli (2007), Harvard University, cites Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT, to assert in the article, lshani Ganguli "Watching the Brain Lie": "[Functional magnetic resonance imaging] fMRI Is a Messy Muddy Mixed Field...[That Requires] Extremely Well Trained People. That's the Last Kind of Technology You Want to Use in the Legal System" (Kanwisher, Ganguli, 2007, Anatomy of…section, ¶ 8). Distortions attributed to the "hardware" of fMRI, as well as a number of other issues, contribute to uncertainty regarding the reliability of the methods utilized to detect and record brain functionality as it relates to concepts such as pain, lying, and other sensations and behaviors relevant to factual issues in the courtroom. While scientists may successfully study and surmise areas reportedly related to certain behaviors or sensations across a number of human brains, confirmation regarding the reliability of this practice remains evasive as findings primarily evolve; subject to the interpreter's subjective observations.

The lack of consensus in the Medical and Neuroscientific community regarding what specific areas of brain activity influence particular behaviors and sensations reveal that one's understanding of the human brain prevents one from accurately interpreting the data to provide a consistent and reliable source of information with regard to matters relevant to a court case, such as intent, deception, or pain. A distinct possibility exists that these hurdles will eventually be overcome, perhaps even in the near future. Current credibility concerns relating to data collected directly from the human brain and rendered into images through fMRI technology, albeit, impede one's ability to predict and analyze behavior and sensations. In light of these comprehensible, challenging yet fatal shortcomings and concerns, the researcher asserts that just as a polygraph test should not be admitted in court as evidence, the fMRI should not likewise inadmissible.

Functional MRI Lie Detection

Mark Pettit, Jr. (2007), Professor, Boston University School of Law, asserts that although the science behind fMRI appears sophisticated, the basic concept may be readily understood. Pettit explains that fMRI involves creating a series of brain images to reveal "changes in blood levels in the various areas of the brain over time. & #8230; the & #8230;immediate use of fMRI, & #8230; that has generated the most interest and debate about possible courtroom use, is lie detection.

The theory purports that blood levels depict how hard the brain works. As lying requires more "brain work" than telling the truth, comparisons from brain scans reportedly reveal when the individual may be lying. (Pettit, Jr., 2007,

Dr. Laurence R. Tancredi, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine and Dr. Jonathan D. Brodie (2007), the Marvin Stern Professor of Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, as noted in the quote introducing this study, assert that brain imaging constitutes a credible courtroom tool. Tancredi and Brodie (2007) explain that fMRI works on the principle that changes in the brain's hemodynamics, "which relate to mental operations, can be detected and mapped using basic MRI instrumentation. At this time [during 2007], the most widely used method to measure cerebral blood flow using MRI has been the Blood Oxygen Level Dependent (BOLD) technique."

The fundamental physiological notion supporting this technique, contingent on the 70-year-old observation that the hemoglobin properties in a strong magnetic field depend on its state of oxygen saturation, contends that increased neural activity in a particular brain region results in greater consumption of oxygen from the blood close to these neurons. Increased blood flow, as well as, blood volume of the local vasculature of the brain's activated regions accompany the increased oxygen consumption.

Simpson (2008), Staff Psychiatrist, VA Long Beach Healthcare System, Long Beach, California, investigatges the proposition that fMRI may serve as a potential new lie-detection technique, not based on the measurement of autonomic reactions. In the journal publication, "Functional MRI Lie Detection: Too Good to be True?," Simpson asserts that the application of fMRI, a frequently used tool in neuroscientific research may be utilized to obtain measurements of cerebral blood flow in individuals engaged in deception. "Within the past two years, two separate research groups have devised experimental paradigms and statistical methods that they claim allow identification of brain activity patterns consistent with lying."

Researchers relating findings from these groups claim the approaches may be used on individual subjects, with approximately 90% accuracy.

fMRI and the Legal System

In the journal article, "A Double-Edged Sword: The Role of Neuroimaging in Federal Capital Sentencing," Abram S. Barth (2007), M.P.H. Candidate, Boston University School of Public Health, admits that brain dysfunction is detectable by neuroimaging and also indicates both future dangerousness and impaired capacity. He explains that structural neuroimaging may be conveyed through computerized tomography scanning (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These two tests produce images of the brains soft-tissue structure. Functional neuroimaging may be administered by conducting a positron emission tomography scanning (PET) test, which records the brain's activity and measures cognitive activity. A combination of structural and functional neruoimaging constitutes a functional MRI (fMRI) test, which combines information about brain activity extracted from functional scans with structural representations.

Barth argues against fMRI evidence being admitted in court. He stresses "that even the most scientific predictions, based on thorough examination, diagnosis of mental symptoms, past patterns of behavior, and probabilistic assessment are wrong nearly as often as they are right."

If courts did admit frontal lobe dysfunction evidence as evidence of future dangerousness, Barth asserts, two significant difficulties would arise.

1. Frontal lobe dysfunction works in conjunction with other environmental or psychological factors to produce criminal behavior. & #8230;if these corollary factors are controllable, then future dangerousness will be less predictable. For if a frontal-lobe dysfunction sufferer is able to excise his frontal lobe tumor, remove alcohol and drugs from his environment, or receive behavior modification medications, such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers, then frontal-lobe dysfunction may no longer signify future dangerousness, thus removing itself as an aggravating circumstance

2. & #8230;Future dangerousness in the general population is not generalizable to future dangerousness in the prison population. When courts consider the future dangerousness standard, it would be a mistake to focus on the general public, rather than a well-controlled and regulated prison. Since future dangerousness is an aggravating factor that would increase a life sentence to a death penalty, the decision is not whether the defendant would ever be a future danger to the general public. Instead, the correct context for adjudicating future dangerousness is within prison walls, where the defendant will be housed, if he is not put to death.

Tancredi and Brodie (2007) concur that when a specific brain image relates to a clinical evaluation or a set of neuropsychological tests, a fMRI image may, in turn, serve as a partial "marker" for particular behaviors. In some instances, the presence of the marker could actually substantiate a presumption that individual "X" evidenced "a particular set of characteristics, such as proneness towards violence, emotional instability to the point of lack of control, and cognitive incompetence, to explain the behavior in question."

Perhaps, in conjunction with other more specifically focused behavioral evaluations, the image could reliably explain cause and effect. Ultimately, albeit, no single test should be used as each technological tool possesses limitations that affect the capacity legal and medical practitioners possess to infer causal relationships.

Simpson (2008) asserts that even if a number of obstacles were eventually overcome regarding fMRI, the technique would still face additional challenges to being used in criminal proceedings. "The Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination appears to rule out compelling a criminal defendant to submit to the technique."

In addition, another uncertain consideration, potential Fourth Amendment implications, would be whether an fMRI scan does or does not constitute a search.

Advantages of fMRI

Tancredi and Brodie (2007) explain that along with being readily available to researchers and clinicians; reportedly providing enhanced detail and resolution over comparable imaging methods, fMRI offers two distinct advantages over alternative methods for imaging brain activity.

1. The introduction of radioactive isotopes is not required for the production of the signal for measurement; making fMRI essentially non-invasive. In turn, the process may be repeated frequently, if necessary, on the same person without the concern of adverse radiological effects.

2. " fMRI allows for the integration of anatomical (structural), neural, and molecular information in a single session. The gleaning of data on brain activity along with information about the anatomy of the region can be achieved within seconds."

As the process surveys neural and metabolic status of the region is simultaneously, fMRI… [END OF PREVIEW]

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