Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Brain Made Me Do It

As a college student deep into my studies, I have developed a dependency on a warm, slightly sweetened morning cup of coffee. I begin each day (or sometimes each afternoon) with a mug full of the deep brown nectar, with its bold, slow roasted flavor. I suppose I could quit any time I want, right? You know, I could put the cup down and be the same. Maybe I would have a harder time getting started in the morning or be less productive at work. It might be a little more challenging to stay awake on my drive to campus. Maybe I’ll go to bed a little earlier and put off my assignments for another day. On second thought, maybe I’ll stick to my coffee. I don’t think I could do much without it.
Original Image from

The Role of Emotions in the Development of Morality

There has been a long-standing debate concerning the role of emotion in our moral psychology. Sentimentalists hold that emotions are the primary basis for moral judgments. In contrasts, rationalists hold that non-affect-laden cognitive processes are the primary basis for moral judgments.

Now this talk of 'the primary basis for' is vague and ill-defined. What role do the emotions have to play in moral judgments in order for that role to be considered 'the primary basis of'? Well, on a more well-defined version of sentimentalism, the emotions play a necessary role in the understanding and use of moral concepts. This 'necessary role' is usually cashed out in terms of the relevant emotions being constitutive of moral judgments. This 'necessary role' could also be cashed out in terms of the emotions being necessary for the causal production of moral judgments. It is important to note that both the 'constitutive' claim and the 'causal production' claim are claims of synchronic necessity. Under these views, strictly speaking, one could not be making a moral judgment without the accompaniment of the appropriate emotion.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Neurosexism and Single-Sex Education (or support your local ACLU)

"N" is for Neurosexism
Twenty or thirty years ago, single-sex education for girls was a feminist clause célèbre. However, beginning in the late 1990s and early 2000s, people began to worry that boys were “underperforming” in school and in life (an idea nicknamed “the boys’ crisis” by the popular press). The media framing of the boys’ crisis has been critiqued on a number of fronts – specifically, critics have pointed out that both girls and boys are performing better in school than in the past and that the difference in educational achievement between white and middle-class students and low-income and minority students is far more pronounced than the difference between female and male students (see a 2008 report from the American Association of University Women).

However, despite these critiques, cultural commentators began to advocate for single-sex education in public schools as a solution to the boys’ crisis. Commentators like Michael Gurian (author of Boys and Girls Learn Differently!) and Leonard Sax (founder of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education and author of Why Gender Matters) argued that boys’ and girls’ brains develop differently, so boys and girls should be separated in school and should receive education targeted to their specific neuro-developmental patterns and mental strengths.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Kathinka Evers: On ‘Responsible Neuroethics’ and Neuro-rubbish

In March 2012, Roger Scruton published an article in The Spectator entitled ‘Brain Drain,’ in which he lamented the fact that traditionally humanistic disciplines are increasingly taking neuroscientific findings into account. He characterized the phenomenon as one of “neuroenvy,” – with humanists simply jumping onto the neuroscience bandwagon – and argued that when scholars in the humanities “add the prefix ‘neuro’ to their studies, we should expect their researches to be nonsense.” [1] My first thought was, ‘Oh, for the love of…’
Actually, we prefer the term 'neuro-rubbish.'

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What’s in a Name?: DSM Criteria and Addiction

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” This is the famous question posed by Juliet in the immortalized balcony scene.  And while Shakespeare could afford to question the idea, patients with mental disorders, scientists who study the disorders, and the insurance agents that fund the aid have not yet found a way to do without names. In a recent interview, Steven Hyman puts this sentiment in his own words: “Classifications are, in the end, cognitive schemata that we impose on data in order to organize and manipulate it. Many disorders are better represented for scientific purposes, but also for setting rational thresholds for treatments as continuous quantitative dimensions.”
Image of Dr. Hyman:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spotlight on Ethics: Neuroethics–How Neuroscience Challenges our Values

Mind-reading, neuro-marketing, and neurolaw: It seems hardly a day goes by without a discussion of how new studies of the brain are challenging concepts in daily life as we know it. Neuroscience is now influencing how we think about every aspect of our lives from identity, (animal) personhood, and definitions of disease to the law, and marketing of novel commercial products. Dr. Karen Rommelfanger, neuroscientist and Program Director of Emory University’s Neuroethics Program, gives insights into the field of neuroethics and the wide-reaching ethical and social implications of neuroscience and neurotechnologies.

–originally featured on Emory University Center for Ethics Blog

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Let’s talk about “Precrime”

Last month I blogged a little bit about constitutional protection, lie detection technology, and wildly speculative but totally valid concerns about what happens if someone else could tell what I was thinking. As promised, this month I’m going to follow up with some information about “precrime”: what it is, outside of a science-fiction context, what it could become, and what neuroscientific knowledge contributes to the area.

I just really love the cover and wanted to plug the book, ok?
This is a wonderful book; everyone should go read it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Man Who Voled the World

Last Monday, Dr.Hasse Walum gave a talk titled "Genetic and Hormonal Influences on Pair Bonding Related Behavior in Humans" at the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience at Emory. I hadn't heard of Walum's work before I saw the e-mail announcement for his talk, but a little googling got me interested. Here's the most titillating version of his findings: Walum found the gene that makes men cheat.

Okay, that is most definitely not what he found, and I got the sense from talking with him briefly that he would be the first one to tell you that. So why am I misrepresenting his results?

Dr. Hasse Walum: hard-hitting Wired reporter  David Ewing Duncan compares him to Kurt Cobain, but my science and rock star senses detect a David Bowie influence

Monday, July 2, 2012

Call for “Late Breaking” Abstracts

*Deadline for abstract submissions: August 13, 2012

Brain Matters 3: 
Values at the Crossroads of Neurology,
Psychiatry and Psychology 
October 24th-25th, 2012
This conference provides a venue for collaboration and learning in the area of neuroethics. The plenary speakers of this conference will address ethical challenges in the treatment and research for conditions with neurological symptomatology but that are without identifiable biological correlates/causes. The complexities of suffering and disability experienced by individuals with these conditions are significant, including exposure to dangerous and futile treatments.