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Welcome Our Inaugural Neuroethics Scholars!

It is with great pleasure that the Emory Neuroethics Program announces its inaugural neuroethics scholars!  The Neuroethics Program invited graduate students to create and to join collaborative, interdepartmental faculty teams at Emory and in the Atlanta community to pursue Neuroethics scholarship.  Graduate students were free to propose projects of interest to them. Proposals included innovative ideas in the arena of teaching, empirical research, new media, and beyond. By the completion of their one year appointments, each scholar is expected to co-author a paper and present his/her work.  The selection process was quite competitive. Abstracts of their proposed projects can be found below.

Cyd Cipolla and Kristina Gupta (Innovative Neuroethics Teaching)

Cyd Cippola and Kristina Gupta

We both work in the field of feminist science studies, a field that has challenged the gender biases of scientific knowledge. In her dissertation research, Cyd examines the role of religious, psychiatric and popular representation in the creation of “violent sex offender” legislation in the United States, and the relationship between this criminal category and sexual identity categories. In her dissertation research, Kristina examines the interplay between scientific and medical approaches to “nonsexuality” and the efforts by some individuals to define “asexuality” as a sexual identity category. Through our research, we both became interested in the role that neuroscientific research plays in defining some types of sexuality as deviant or pathological and in influencing public understandings of certain types of sexuality.

Based on this interest, we applied to the Neuroethics Scholars Program both to increase our own knowledge about the field of Neuroethics and to contribute to this emerging field. As Neuroethics scholars, we will develop and teach a course during the spring of 2012 titled “Feminism, Sexuality, and Neuroethics.” The course is being offered through the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and is cross-listed with the Department of Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. Students in this class will learn the major topics and themes within the field of Neuroethics through critically examining historical and contemporary scientific research on sexuality and the brain. We will cover a variety of topics, including homosexuality, sex/gender differences in sexuality, violent sexual offenses, sex addiction, sexual desire disorders, and monogamy. Students will read a scientific study or studies on the topic alongside reports about the study in news media outlets, and then follow this by reading critiques of the work from both inside and outside the scientific community. No previous experience with neuroscience research or sexuality research is required to take the class. Our goal is to enable students from all disciplines to understand the scientific research on its own terms, to develop the skills required to analyze the ethical implications of this research, and to develop an understanding of how neuroscientific research is conveyed to the public through media.

In addition to teaching the course, we plan to make our syllabus publicly available and to write an article reflecting on our experiences teaching the course. In this way, we will contribute to the resources available for teaching about Neuroethics. We are very excited about this opportunity and we look forward to sharing our experiences with you. We would also appreciate any feedback, suggestions, or advice you have to offer!


Jason Shepard (Innovative Empirical Neuroethics Research)

Jason Shepard

I am interested in exploring the links between beliefs in free will and pro- and anti-social behaviors. Some neuroscientists and psychologists often claim that data from the brain and behavioral sciences are providing evidence against the existence of free will. These claims range from the more modest (but still controversial) claims that the data is showing that our free will is much more limited than we suppose to the much stronger claims that the data is showing that free will is an illusion. These anti-free-will claims are no longer confined to the pages of academic journals; these claims have also been regularly making their way into the popular media. In a separate line of research, psychologists have experimentally demonstrated that by exposing people to texts that claim that free will is an illusion, people tend to cheat more (Vohs & Schooler, 2008) and they tend to be less willing to help and tend to be more aggressive (Baumeister, et al , 2009). These findings have raised some important ethical questions such as: If exposing people to anti-free-will texts can have deleterious effects on people’s behaviors, might there be harmful social consequences of scientists publically making anti-free-will claims? If there are harmful social consequences of scientists publically making anti-free-will claims, are there any ethical constraints placed on those who might be tempted to publically make anti-free-will claims? Though the current evident suggests that these are questions that deserve serious attention, the current evidence does not yet justify an answer to these questions. From the current studies is not really clear what are the specific mechanisms that lead to reduced beliefs in free will and the behavioral changes, whether the results will generalize beyond the lab , or whether the behavioral effects will persist beyond a single testing session. All of these issues need to be adequately addressed in order to have a clear understanding of what exactly is at stake, whether the stakes warrant any proscriptive advice, and what exactly should be the content of the proscriptive advice. In order to help answer these questions, Jason proposes (1) to explore the specific mechanisms that can lead to reduced beliefs in free will at a finer grain level than previous studies; (2) to try to generalize the results to a wider range of ecologically valid measures of pro- and anti-social behaviors; and (3) to explore the time course of the behavioral effects.

Jason Shepard is a first-year psychology PhD student in the Cognition and Development Program at Emory, where he works in Phillip Wolff’s Cognition and Linguistic Systems Lab. He also holds an MA in philosophy with a concentration in Neurophilosophy from Georgia State University. In addition to studying the behavioral effects of beliefs in free will, Jason also studies intentional action, causal structure, and other related phenomenon.

Want to cite this post?

Rommelfanger, K. (2011). Welcome Our Inaugural Neuroethics Scholars! The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on
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Baumeister, R., Masicampo, E.J., DeWall, C. N. (2009) Prosocial Benefits of Feeling Free: Disbelief in Free Will Increases Aggression and Reduces Helpfulness. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, pp. 260-268

Vohs, K. and Schooler, J. (2008). The value of believing in free will: Encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating. Psychological Sciences, 19, pp 49-54.


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