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Courses in the Law School

At Vanderbilt Law School, coursework at the intersection of law and neuroscience comes in three kinds: 1) the inter-departmental course “Law and Neuroscience”; 2) customizable Independent Study and Supervised Research, which enables students to tailor, with consultation and approval of faculty, an individualized course of study; and 3) neuroscience courses (such as those introducing brain imaging techniques) in other schools and departments, which are approved on a case by case basis. 

Students who have been accepted into both the law school and the psychology department can receive a dual JD/PhD in Law and Neuroscience, through a coordinated course of study that enables the achievement of both degrees in one year less time than if the two degrees were pursued independently.  For further information on the dual JD/PhD, see here.

Interdepartmental Law and Neuroscience Course

Law and Neuroscience (LAW 890) (PSY 344)

Professor Owen D. Jones and Professor Jeffrey D. Schall
Description: (Last offered Spring 2011): Scientists are increasingly using new techniques to investigate the brain activity underlying cognitive phenomena. The two classes Law and Neuroscience (Law 890-01 and Psychology 344) will meet together to explore whether, and if so how, the law should engage with various emerging neuroscientific findings, technologies, and perspectives on such topics as evidentiary rules, memory bias and enhancement, lie and deception detection, the neurobiology of criminal culpability and punishment, emotions and decision making, addiction, adolescent brains and juvenile law, moral and legal reasoning, tort law, artificial intelligence, and the like. The course will also address a variety of challenging questions raised by the increasing introduction of brain-scans as evidence in courtroom proceedings. A background in science may be helpful, but is not required, as the course will provide a “brain basics” introduction for law students.

To learn more about this course, see:

Law professors interested in teaching from these course materials should contact Prof. Owen Jones.

Examples of Other Courses In Neuroscience and Psychology for Law Students

Law, Biology & Human Behavior (LAW 965)

Professor Owen D. Jones
Description:  This seminar considers the extent to which recent advances in biology can usefully contribute to our understanding of – and thus to our effective regulation of – behaviors that are relevant to law. Specifically, the seminar explores the extent to which integrating insights from life sciences (particularly behavioral biology) with insights from the social sciences (such as psychology and sociology) may ultimately yield improved ability to pursue the various tasks that society routinely assigns to the legal arena. The seminar begins with both a general inquiry into the relationship between law and behavior and an introduction to relevant and accessible themes of behavioral biology. The seminar then turns to explore the appropriate roles, if any, for behavioral biology in the context of legal thinking. Contexts examined typically include, for instance, those relevant to criminal law (such as reducing the incidence of violence), those relevant to family law (such as reducing domestic abuse), and those relevant to employment law (such as reducing discrimination). Readings are drawn from current scholarship in law, biology, psychology, and anthropology.

Advanced Topics in Juvenile Justice (LAW 891)

Professor Terry Maroney
Description:  This short course will focus on advanced topics in the law of juvenile justice, including delinquency cases and criminal cases in which the juvenile is tried as an adult. Using the lens of psychology and the mind sciences, students will explore issues including the infancy defense, diminished culpability, waiver of Miranda rights, competence to consent to searches, competence to communicate with counsel and participate in one's defense, and rehabilitative treatment.

Examples of Other Neuroscience Courses in Psychology and Bio-Engineering for Law Students

Law students can, on a case by case basis, and subject to administrative approval, enroll in neuroscience courses in other departments.

Neuroimaging (BME 331)

Professor Baxter P. Rogers
Description:  Applications of noninvasive imaging techniques including MRI, fMRI, optical, EEG, and PET to the study of neural systems. Emphasis on the human brain, with a focus on current scientific literature. Fall. (Offered alternate years) Next offering is Fall 2012.

Brain Imaging Methods (PSY 316)

Professor René Marois
Description:  Principles and methods used in human neuroimaging, with emphasis on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).