Law and neuroscience at the EUI

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Sofia Moratti

Sofia Moratti, MW Fellow 2011-2013

Law and neuroscience at the EUI

by Sofia Moratti, Max Weber Fellow, LAW, 2011-2013 (

Cognitive neuroscience – a field of scientific knowledge that has developed rapidly in the past decade – is the study of the neurobiological bases of higher mental abilities, including language, reasoning, intention, memory and perception. Recent progress in cognitive neuroscience can have a direct impact on improving the work of courts in making judgments of lack of criminal responsibility in cases of insanity. This question is attracting an increasing amount of interdisciplinary, international scholarly, and media attention, among legal experts, behavioural scientists, neuroscientists and philosophers.

Following my two-year Max Weber Fellowship, I will be a Research Associate at the EUI, in the framework of Professor Dennis Patterson’s ‘The Guilty Mind’ project. The project is a study of the use of neuroscientific evidence in the criminal courts of six European Union countries. The project’s central research questions are: ‘When does neuroscience-based evidence meet the standards for admissibility of scientific proof?’ and ‘What is the role that the neuroscientific evidence, once admitted, plays in the legal decision?’ My own research will focus on how medical (and, more specifically, neuroscientific) assessments are made to fit into legal categories and translated into legal judgments. I expect to find that this process is heavily influenced by the features of the particular legal system in which magistrates operate. I expect to find major differences between countries, which translate into de facto significantly different rights for the defendant, depending on the particular EU country in which he or she is being tried. ‘The Guilty Mind’ project will lead to the drafting of policy-relevant recommendations for use by national courts in European countries.

Dennis Patterson (Rutgers University and the EUI) is the author of several works on fundamental questions in Law and Neuroscience, including the very recent Minds, Brains, and Law (with Michael Pardo) published by Oxford University Press. We have been working together, during my Max Weber Fellowship, on the organization of conferences, on publications, and on the presentation of our joint work at various international workshops.