Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Racial Biases in Face Judgment- When You “Look” Criminal

By Carlie Hoffman

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Racial bias can, and often does, occur in several elements of the criminal justice process, including on initial police contact, during eye-witness identification, and in jurors’ decisions. This disparity of how people are treated throughout the justice system is likely influenced by the criminal black male stereotype that pervades our American culture (1). Some propose that this stereotype originated in the slavery and post-slavery eras, with the onset of Jim Crow laws and other post-slavery codes that instigated segregation and also sanctioned racially-biased punishments for blacks, and especially for black males. Racially-biased punishments are still present today, with a 2015 article in Slate magazine citing that black Americans are more likely to have their cars searched, to be arrested for drug use, to be jailed while awaiting a trial, and to serve longer sentences for the same offense as white Americans.

The presence of racial bias in the criminal justice system is irrefutable, and investigation into the elements fueling this bias has recently moved into the realm of neuroscience. In last month’s Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News talk, Dr. Heather Kleider-Offutt from Georgia State University explained that not all black men are stereotyped in the same way. Instead, certain black men are subject to a higher degree of negative bias than other black men, and inclusion in this select subgroup is based on face-type and not skin color alone.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rethinking Irreversibility and Its Implications on Determining Death

By Alex Lin

Alex Lin is an undergraduate student at Rutgers University pursuing a dual degree in Biological Sciences and Philosophy. As an aspiring physician, he is interested in medical ethics and runs the Rutgers Bioethics Society alongside a diverse team of student thinkers. Alex is from Paramus, New Jersey, and volunteers as an emergency medical technician for his community.

Death, by definition, is irreversible. The notion of irreversibility is a central component of the current standards of death, cardiopulmonary and neurological alike. Given that the neurological criteria−the irreversible cessation of whole brain function−is the legally recognized criterion of death in many countries, including the United States [1], forthcoming advancements in neurotechnology under the BRAIN Initiative will be crucial to the accurate determination of death. With the development of technologies that allow scientists to study how individual neurons interact in significantly greater detail, questions emerge concerning the particular moment of truly irreversible total brain failure.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Prescribing the Placebo Effect

By Sarika Sachdeva

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016. 

Sarika Sachdeva is an undergraduate junior at Emory studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Economics. She is involved with research on stimulant abuse and addiction under Dr. Leonard Howell at Yerkes National Primate Research Center. 

In 2006, Dr. Ted Kaptchuk designed a clinical drug trial to evaluate a new pain pill in patients with severe arm pain. Participants in the study were assigned to receive either the pill or an acupuncture treatment for several weeks. Dr. Kaptchuk found that the people who received acupuncture ended up with more pain relief than those who had taken the pain pill. This difference was surprising, not because the pain pill was expected to be more effective, but because neither treatment was real- the pain pills contained cornstarch and the acupuncture was done with false needles that never pierced the skin.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Guilty or Not Guilty: Policy Considerations for Using Neuroimaging as Evidence in Courts

By Sunidhi Ramesh

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016. 

Sunidhi Ramesh, an Atlanta native, is a third year student at Emory University where she is double majoring in Sociology and Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. She plans to pursue a career in medicine and holds a deep interest in sparking conversation and change around her, particularly in regards to pressing social matters and how education in America is both viewed and handled. In her spare time, Sunidhi is a writer, bridge player, dancer, and violinist.

 In 1893, Dr. Henry Howard Holmes opened his World’s Fair Hotel to the world [1].

But what his guests did not know was that the basement was filled with jars of poison, boxes of bones, and large surgical tables. Chutes from the guest rooms existed only to slide bodies into a pile downstairs. In the few months that the hotel was open for the public, Holmes, dubbed America’s first serial killer, killed an estimated number of 200 guests. Two years later, he was put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to death [1].

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Predictive Power of Neuroimaging

By Ethan Morris

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016. 

Ethan Morris is an undergraduate senior at Emory University, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology with a minor in History. Ethan is a member of the Dilks Lab at Emory and is a legislator on the Emory University Student Government Association. Ethan is from Denver, Colorado and loves to ski.   

Background and Current Research

Neuroscience is a rapidly burgeoning field that is increasingly facing complex issues as scientists learn more about the human brain and by extension, about personal identity. One technology that has gained attention in the last two decades is brain imaging, a technique that uses various tools to evaluate the brain’s functional response to the world. Some of the more commonly used brain imaging devices are functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), both of which measure blood flow (albeit by different mechanisms) through the brain. These blood flow results show which areas of the brain are metabolically active, and are thus activated by the task at hand. Using these devices, researchers can determine the activity of certain brain regions associated with certain types of sensory and perceptual processing, as well as cognitive function.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Neuroimaging in Predicting and Detecting Neurodegenerative Diseases and Mental Disorders

By Anayelly Medina

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Anayelly is a Senior at Emory University majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. 

If your doctor told you they could determine whether or not you would develop a neurodegenerative disease or mental disorder in the future through a brain scan, would you undergo the process? Detecting the predisposition to or possible development of disorders or diseases not only in adults but also in fetuses through genetic testing (i.e. preimplantation genetics) has been a topic of continued discussion and debate [2]. Furthermore, questions regarding the ethical implications of predictive genetic testing have been addressed by many over the past years [4,8]. However, more recently, neuroimaging and its possible use in detecting predispositions to neurodegenerative diseases as well as mental disorders has come to light. The ethical questions raised by the use of predictive neuroimaging technologies are similar to those posed by predictive genetic testing; nevertheless, given that the brain is the main structure analyzed and affected by these neurodegenerative and mental disorders, different questions (from those posed by predictive genetic testing) have also surfaced.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Stain of the Spotless Mind: Policy Recommendations for Memory Erasure

By Peter Leistikow

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Peter Leistikow is an undergraduate student at Emory University studying Neuroscience and Sociology. When he is not doing research in pharmacology, Peter works as a volunteer Advanced EMT in the student-run Emory Emergency Medical Service.

Over the course of 15 years, psychologist Dan McAdams studied how Americans describe their lives. Specifically, McAdams wanted to know what kind of life narratives were associated with lives high in “generativity;” that is, a concern for and commitment to promoting the well-being of future generations. He ultimately discovered that generative adults had narrative identities that emphasized redemption, such as a second chance or delivery from suffering (McAdams 2006).

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Corner on the Neuromarket

By Sol Lee

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Sol Lee studies Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University. As a pre-med student, he is enthusiastic about primary care and global health concerns. Sol is currently doing research on glutamate receptors in Parkinson’s Disease in the Smith Lab.

Ever since its inception in 2002 [1], neuromarketing has been a rapidly developing and highly controversial field. Neuromarketing employs neuroscience research in order to advertise products and services and is primarily utilized by companies to better understand the brain’s responses to marketing stimuli and advertising [2]. Methods include analysis of galvanic skin response, which can be used to measure stress, and eye tracking, which measures eye location and movement. Common medical research techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures brain activity by detecting changes in cerebral blood flow, and electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain, are also utilized [3]. With these techniques, neuromarketing promises to create advertising methods that are more impactful and enticing. Although neuromarketing holds much potential in this regard, there are concerns about the ethical implications of this emerging field. Concerns about neuromarketing include the potential for deceptive consumer coercion, infringement of consumer privacy rights, complicating legal ramifications, and inappropriate weighting of private versus public interests. This paper will attempt to address concerns about neuromarketing and propose guidelines for a proper course of action.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Placebo as Therapy: Context, Ethics, and Recommendations

By Somnath Das

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

I am a Senior at Emory University and am currently pursuing a double major in Neuroscience and Chemistry. Currently, I am applying to medical school. My interest in healthcare lies primarily in understanding the behavioral motivations of patients as they navigate through various healthcare systems. I also wish to study how to effectively translate innovations powered by biomedical research into accurate health information for patients and optimized healthcare delivery. Neuroethics allows me to focus these interests onto patient dignity and rights when considering the role novel therapeutics and interventions in treatment. Studying this fascinating field has given me a perspective on the role deontological considerations play in both neuroscience and medicine as a whole. It is with this perspective that I hope to approach my patients with a balanced worldview, taking into account both individual rights as well as stakeholders and developers participating in a rapidly changing field. 

Placebo therapy is broadly characterized as the administration of an agent that possesses a physiologically inert effect. However, current research suggests that placebo in fact has observable therapeutic outcomes across a wide spectrum of disorders. Thus, placebo’s efficacy should be investigated thoroughly by researchers, ethicists, and physicians in order to evaluate and develop protocols to implement placebo therapy in an effective manner. It is necessary that researchers communicate to physicians and clinicians about the efficacy and rigor by which research has quantified placebo’s effect. In addition, training protocols must be developed such that physicians can safely implement placebo therapy in practice. Finally, the ethics of placebo should be carefully considered; a calculation of placebo ethics is presented in tandem with policy recommendations in this document.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Digital Immortality of the Future – Or, Advancements in Brain Emulation Research

By Kathy Bui

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Kathy Bui is a 4th year undergraduate at Emory University, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Psychology. She hopes to pursue a PhD in neurobiology after graduation. Her current interests include social justice topics of class disparities and human health rights. 

Introduction: “How do you want to be remembered?” 

The fear of our looming death has haunted us since human life began. It’s not hard to believe that the quest of human immortality has not changed since Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality in 22nd century BC. However, with the technological strides in conjunction with ambitious billionaires, the cure to death may be closer than we think. Life expectancy has been steadily increasing over decades, and yet, Americans seem to look forward to the inevitable prospect of immortality. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 44% of Americans would want to extend their life to age 120 if given the opportunity [1, 2].