Tuesday, November 29, 2011

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 , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2011/11/welcome-to-our-inaugural-neuroethics.html


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.

Monday, November 28, 2011

“The Ethics of Designer Brains”: Interview with Paul Root Wolpe on Big Think

Director of Emory’s Center for Ethics talks about the ethics of designer brains on Big Think.

“Our values as a society will determine which psychopharmaceuticals and (down the road) which genetic enhancement technologies we choose to develop and how we use them.

That’s what concerns Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, senior Bioethicist at NASA and a pioneer in the field of neuroethics. Peering into his children’s and grandchildren’s future, he sees an America that rewards competitiveness and productivity over relationship-building, and suspects that future generations will face intense pressure to enhance their minds and bodies in unhealthy ways.

The politics of technophilia vs technophobia aside, our power to manipulate our brains and genes is increasing dramatically – and it raises serious ethical questions.”

Neuroethics Journal Club documented by artist Jon Ciliberto

Jon Ciliberto artist and all around jack-of-all-trades documented our last Neuroethics Journal Club on Neurotechnologies and Lie Detection via painting/drawing.  Thanks, Jon!

by Jon Ciliberto

Our next Neuroethics Journal Club
will be on December 14, 2011. We will be discussing the AJOB Neuroscience article, “Deflating the Neuroenhancement Bubble,” and Emory Neuroscience Graduate student David Nicholson will facilitate this session.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lie Detection and the Jury

Much virtual and actual ink has been spilled of late about the dangers of rushing to bring brain-imaging technologies into the courtroom.  Not only neuroskeptics,[1] but also preeminent neuroscientists,[2] have urged caution when it comes to the prospect of fMRI data being admitted as trial evidence.  And brain-based lie detection, as one of the most alluring areas of imaging research, has in particular come in for a great deal of hand-wringing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Project Guerrilla Science: Neurobiological Origins of Zombies!

The Neuroethics Program made some new friends at the Society for Neuroscience meeting (SfN). Project Guerrilla Science presents, *ah hem*, research on necroneurology.
From the office of: Bradley Voytek, Ph.D. (Post-doctoral Fellow, University of California, San Francisco) & Timothy Verstynen, Ph.D. (Post-doctoral Research Associate University of Pittsburgh) —- “HUMANS! We appreciate your interest in the zombie sciences. Necroneurology is the most exciting new thing to hit neuroscience since mirror neurons! We look forward to future possible collaborative opportunities. We encourage all scientists to take part in Project Guerrilla Science at next year’s SfN. Be on the lookout for other, fun (maybe even non-zombie!?) research projects in the future. This has been surprisingly fun and successful (and has garnered us way more media attention than our actual research… ::sigh::). Please send any and all brains you may encounter–zombie or otherwise!”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Neuroethics Blog Post on CNN Blog by Dr. Paul Root Wolpe: No mind-reading allowed!

Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, Dr. Paul Root Wolpe puts his foot down on CNN’s Belief Blog.

Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, neuroethics expert

“Throughout human history, the inner workings of our minds were impenetrable, known only to us and, perhaps, to God. No one could see what you were thinking, or know what you were feeling, unless you chose to reveal it to them.”

Read more about it by following the link below.
My Take: Keep government out of mind-reading business

International Neuroethics Society: Summary of what you (may have) missed!

Greetings from DC!  The Neuroethics Program is busy hobnobbing with some of world's most cutting-edge, interdisciplinary group of innovative thinkers at the International Neuroethics Society (INS)!

In case you didn't get the chance to attend this year, here is a brief summary of what you missed. The full list of events can be seen here and featured events from Day 1 of this year's meeting can be seen here.

This year INS hosted its annual meeting at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Day 2 of the annual INS meeting was an exciting and inspiring day featuring outstanding sessions. Each session highlighted some of the most pressing topics in the field of neuroethics.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

International Neuroethics Society: Careers in Neuroethics Session

Greetings from Washington DC! The Neuroethics Program is on the road attending the International Neuroethics Society Meeting and Society for Neuroscience.

Have you been wondering how to begin your journey toward a career in neuroethics?

The 2011 International Neuroethics Society (INS) Meeting featured a Neuroethics Careers Session.  INS meeting organizers, including Emory Neuroethics Program’s Gillian Hue, put together a stellar panel of speakers including Alan Leshner, AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science); Paul Root Wolpe, Emory University; Emily Murphy, Stanford and Hank Greely, Stanford.

“You enter the field almost always obliquely,” Paul Root Wolpe of Emory told the audience. “You get into bioethics through a story.”

To learn more about his story, a summary of this panel discussion can be found on the Dana Foundation’s Blog.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Neuroethics Playlist

We have put together a playlist of songs about neuroethics, the brain, and the mind. Below you will find a Prezi presentation that includes the music and brief descriptions of each of the songs.

Special thanks to the followers on our Facebook page for their helpful suggestions.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ted Talk: Trust, morality — and oxytocin

“What drives our desire to behave morally? Neuroeconomist Paul Zak shows why he believes oxytocin (he calls it “the moral molecule”) is responsible for trust, empathy and other feelings that help build a stable society.”

For more read our previous blog post “Liquid Trust and Artificial Love” here.