Cognitive Neuroscience and Law

  • CogNeuro students in Florida
    CogNeuro students in Florida
  • Dr. Andrews and Students on Boat
    Dr. Andrews and Students on Boat
  • Students with Dolphins
    Students with Dolphins
  • Students in front of Dolphin Research Center
    Students in front of Dolphin Research Center
  • Students in wetsuits in ocean
    Students in wetsuits in ocean
  • Neuroscience and Human Language students
    Neuroscience and Human Language students


Cognitive Neuroscience and Law offers an introduction to several important aspects of the study of the brain. Our cluster will include courses that include the basic principles of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and neurochemical processes, as well as a focus on the neurofunctionality of brain and language, including how the brain enables us to understand language, disorders of the brain that impair language comprehension, how individuals acquire and maintain their first and subsequent languages, and how recent advances in brain imaging technology have improved our ability to understand the relationship of brain and language. In addition, our cluster will study the intersection of law and neuroscience; how recent advances in understanding and studying the brain have affected issues fundamental to the legal system, such as criminal intent, insanity, and truthfulness. This cluster should appeal to anyone curious about how the brain is structured, how it works, how we study it, how it produces and comprehends language, and how our understanding of the brain influences our judgments on issues of legal responsibility for our actions.


Linguistics 216FS/Neuroscience 116FS — Neuroscience and Human Language (NS, SS)

Edna Andrews,  Nancy & Jeffrey Marcus Distinguished Professor; Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature; Chair of Linguistics Program; Director of Center for Slavic and Eurasian Studies; Faculty Network Member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences; Director of Focus Programs 

The relationship of brain and language is explored through a variety of methodologies and approaches, including studies of first and second language acquisition across cultures, multilingualism, language disorders, and imaging studies contributing to understanding current neurobiological, neurophysiological and neurolinguistic perspectives of representation of language in the brain. Other topics considered in this course include the relationship of memory systems to language acquisition, maintenance and loss, the role of language and memory in the construction of identity at the individual and group levels. Readings and case studies will focus on the latest theoretical contributions to the field, as well as classical contributions from the 20th century, including Vygotsky, Luria, Sacks, Kosslyn, Lieberman, Ojemann, Fabbro, Paradis, and Dowling. 

Linguistics 212FS/Public Policy 250FS/ Science and Society 212FS — Law, Ethics and Responsibility (EI, STS, SS)

Michael Newcity, Deputy Director, Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies; Visiting Professor of Linguistics Program and Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Examines the intersection of law and neuroscience, including the use of neuroimaging to determine if a witness is telling the truth; the implications of neuroscience for determining the mental competency of defendants, the insanity defense, the imposition of punishment on defendants. Considers the extent to which recent advances in brain science cause us to reevaluate fundamental legal concepts of "intent," "insanity," and responsibility; the ways in which neuroscience may be applied to these and related issues; and the inherent limitations and incongruities of applying brain science to legal questions.

Linguistics 217FS/Romance Studies 217FS: Language, Thought, and Culture (CZ, SS, CCI, EI)

Gareth Price, Visiting Assistant Professor of the Linguistics Program

Luciana Fellin, Professor of the Practice of Romance Studies

This course examines how language, thought, and culture are interrelated processes and structures. Taking a sociolinguistic perspective that language and society are intertwined, we will look at the degree to which language either constrains or influences thought, how culture and language interact, and how culture is constructed through cognition. The course covers the study of signs (semiotics), cultural and linguistic depiction of people, groups, and issues (representation and discourse analysis), individual and societal beliefs about language itself (language ideologies), how meaning is created and perceived (semantics), and how speakers use language in real-life situations (linguistic anthropology). By the end of the course, you should be able to construct and deconstruct written texts from a linguistic perspective, and analyze the socio- cultural dimensions of spoken language.

Neuroscience 153FS/ Public Policy 185FS/ Science and Society 153FS — Drugs and the Law (SS)

Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

Intoxicating and addictive drugs have been part of human culture for millennia. A small molecule, such as alcohol, cocaine, or heroin, can dramatically change the behavior of someone who takes it. This course will begin by examining the mechanisms by which drugs of abuse affect the brain and decision-making on the individual level. We will then examine how drug use affects families and society as a whole. Finally, we will explore society’s varied reactions to drug use in terms of attitudes, policies, and laws. We will examine the perspectives of the criminal justice system, taxpayers, drug users, treatment counselors, and others. The class will consist of lectures, discussions, guest speakers, and media presentations.

Faculty Director

Edna Andrews
Edna Andrews
  • Director of FOCUS Programs
  • Professor of Linguistics and Cultural Anthropology
  • Nancy & Jeffrey Marcus Distinguished Professor
  • Chair of Linguistics Program
  • Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
  • Center for Cognitive Neuroscience
321B Languages Building
Campus Box: 
(919) 660-3142, (919) 660-3140