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SCAN Certificate helps law students use neuroscience to understand human behavior

March 02, 2015

Revolutionary new advances in brain imaging technology have the potential to change our understanding about how the mind works. For lawyers, having an understanding of neuroscience can be an essential asset, and a new certificate program offered by Penn Law and the Center for Neuroscience & Society is helping law students gain a deeper understanding of human behavior.

Through the Center for Neuroscience & Society, law students can receive the Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) Certificate. The course of study enables students to work knowledgeably with neuroscience, incorporating its concepts and methods into their legal education.

The SCAN Certificate is especially relevant for students who think their careers may intersect with the field of neuroscience, particularly lawyers who may deal with issues of drug policy, mental health parity, regulation of biotechnology, and the use of brain imaging evidence to determine a party’s competence.

“Neuroscience is contributing new tools and new ways of thinking about human behavior, informing many different fields from philosophy and economics to business and law,” said Martha J. Farah, Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society and the Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Natural Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. “The SCAN program gives Penn graduate and professional students a firm foundation in neuroscience, so that they can work knowledgeably with it in their own disciplines.”

Students in the SCAN program must take four courses, two of which are required. The first required course, Foundations of Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience, is offered each fall and provides students with an introduction to the core methods and topics in social, cognitive, and affective neuroscience, with an emphasis on the study of the human brain.

The second required course is Special Topics in Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience, which provides a closer look at current topics in the field and is designed to help students critically read primary sources.

Students must also take two electives from the following categories: approved advanced neuroscience courses, neuroscience and society courses, or bridging courses.

“As neuroscience learns more about the relation of brain and behavior, in the future lawyers will increasingly need to understand and respond to claims and evidence based on neuroscience,” said Stephen J. Morse, Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society. “Students who have completed the SCAN program will be better equipped to deal with such issues effectively for their clients.”

Morse is currently co-teaching Law and Neuroscience with Amy Wax, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law. He also teaches a course on Mental Health Law at the Law School. Both courses can be taken as electives by Penn Law students as part of their work toward the SCAN Certificate.

Recent Penn Law graduate Andreas Kuersten L’14 received the SCAN Certificate along with his JD, and his work in the program led to the publication of an article in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences.

The article, titled “The brain, cognitive enhancement devices, and European regulation,” was co-authored by Kuersten and Roy H. Hamilton, an Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, and argues that the proposed regulation of cognitive enhancement devices, or CEDs, is ultimately unnecessary.

After graduating from Penn Law, Kuersten received a Catalyst Grant and is a Legal Fellow in the international section of the Office of the General Counsel at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

For more information about the SCAN Certificate and cross-disciplinary programs at Penn Law, contact Amanda S. Aronoff, Associate Director of Cross-Disciplinary Programs, at aramanda@law.upenn.edu.