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criminal law, neuroscience, neurolaw, phrenology, biological criminology


Is there such a thing as a criminally "violent brain"? Does it make sense to speak of "the neurobiology of violence" or the "psychopathology of crime"? Is it possible to answer on a physiological level what makes one person engage in criminal violence and another not, under similar circumstances?

This Article first demonstrates parallels between certain current claims about the neurobiology of criminal violence and past movements that were concerned with the law and neuroscience of violence: phrenology, Lombrosian biological criminology, and lobotomy. It then engages in a substantive review and critique of several current claims about the neurological bases of criminal violence. Drawing on research and interviews with neuroscientists, this Article shows that causally localizing what we call "criminal violence" to bits of the brain is scientifically contestable and epistemologically untenable. In viewing the criminal law-neuroscience relationship through the lens of history of science, this Article hopes to offer a constructive portrait of how current neuroscience might inform criminal law discourse about regulating violence.

Publication Citation

44 Wake Forest Law Review 186 (2009).


Biological and Chemical Physics | Criminal Law | Health Law and Policy