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Neuroscience and the Law

September 29, 2022

The Neurolaw Society is a student group that encourages interdisciplinary discourse across topics in law, policy, health, and neuroscience.

By Leanna Tilitei C’23

Hoping to find the answers to legal questions arising from neuroscience, Pascal Rathle SPP’21, ML’22 teamed up with a neuroscience PhD candidate to cofound the Neurolaw Society.

“I’ve always had this deep fascination with the brain. It’s this three-pound organ wrestling to understand itself,” Rathle said. “Though I studied biology in undergrad, I lacked the technical knowledge necessary for these conservations, so I enlisted the help of my friend and PhD candidate Elizabeth Siefert to fill in those gaps.”

Housed jointly at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and Penn’s Center for Neuroscience & Society, the student group encourages interdisciplinary discourse across topics in law, policy, health, and neuroscience. The group aims to explore topics in the emerging field of neurolaw such as the use of neuroimaging as courtroom evidence, the influence of neural processing on criminal behavior and courtroom testimony, and the role of neurobehavioral disorders in crime and sentencing.

“We wanted to build a bridge between the programs and create new ways for students to interact,” Rathle explained. “A lot of us want to find groups that go beyond our echo chamber, so we hoped to create those opportunities for students to push themselves out of their comfort zone in a low-stakes environment.”

The Society’s Neurolaw Publication Digests are student-led meetings that focus on a piece of literature in the field of neurolaw. This is an opportunity for students to debate, ask questions and conversate in an informal and judgment-free space. The Neurolaw Society’s goal is to foster an interdisciplinary environment for students to share opinions and insights from their own fields in order to integrate knowledge from many areas of study and have a better understanding of the topic at hand.

During the group’s Neurolaw Table Talks, guest experts visit to give a short, informal lecture on their area of expertise and then facilitate a roundtable discussion with students. Students who attend may be asked to familiarize themselves with the visiting scholar’s publications in order to actively and effectively engage in discussion.

Each meeting open to all graduate students, providing a vital opportunity for students to interact with peers across Penn’s 12 schools whom they might not otherwise meet.