Decision making is emerging as a key area of neuroscience research. Neuroeconomics and neuromarketing are informed by brain scan data and other studies of how people make decisions, and now Vanderbilt University is the home for a major new study of how legal decisions are influenced by neurological processes.

The first-of-its-kind project, which is a collaboration between researchers at Vanderbilt and more than two dozen other universities, is funded by a $10 million dollar grant given by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Vanderbilt professor Owen Jones, who is one of the nation�s few professors of both law and biology, helped procure the grant and was appointed co-director of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Decision-Making, which is one of the three networks within the Law and Neuroscience Project.

His network will explore decision making related to complex issues surrounding criminal intent. The other two branches will explore the roles of brain abnormalities and addiction as it relates to criminal behavior and criminal responsibility.

Jones and the �decision-making� team will examine decisions that lead to criminal behavior � what aspect of the brain prompts a person to switch from law-abiding to law-breaking? This research will, in essence, explore the neurological side of things such as emotion, choice, risk, inhibition and temptation.

The team will also look into decisions legal experts, such as judges, juries, witnesses and lawyers, make about crime and punishment. The researchers will analyze the brain to see if biases based on race, sex or ethnicity can be detected and they will investigate how jurors react to different kinds of evidence. [From Vanderbilt leads breakthrough study on law and neuroscience; Vanderbilt researchers share $10 million MacArthur Grant.]

While marketers aren’t likely to benefit directly from this work, a big injection of research money into studying the neuroscience of decision making is bound to light a fire under other research efforts around the US and internationally. As far as we know, this $10 million study is the biggest ever in the field of neuroscience and decision making.

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