Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Intelligence Testing: Accurate or Extremely Biased?

By Emily Young

In the early 1900s, psychologist Charles Spearman noticed that children who did well in one subject in school were likely to do well in other subjects as well, and those who did poorly in one subject were likely to do poorly across all subjects. He concluded that there is a factor, g, which correlates with testing performance (Spearman 1904). The g factor is defined as the measure of the variance of testing performance between individuals and is sometimes called “general intelligence”.

Later on, psychologist Raymond Cattell determined that there are two subsets of g, called fluid intelligence (denoted Gf) and crystallized intelligence (denoted Gc). Fluid intelligence is defined as abstract reasoning or logic; it is an individual’s ability to solve a novel problem or puzzle. Crystalized intelligence is more knowledge based, and is defined as the ability to use one’s learned skills, knowledge, and experience (Cattell 1987). It is important to note that while crystallized intelligence relies on knowledge, it is not a measure of knowledge but rather a measure of the ability to use one’s knowledge.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Neuroscience and Philosophy of Mind: The Relevance for Neuroethics

By Rabbi Ira Bedzow, MA

Rabbi Ira Bedzow is a 2013 recipient of the Emory Center for Ethics Neuroethics Travel Award. He is the project director for Moral Education research project for the TAG Institute, and is currently pursuing his PhD in Religion at Emory University.

Philosophy of mind examines the nature of the mind, mental functions, and consciousness, and their relationship to the body, i.e. the brain. Most contemporary philosophers of mind adopt a physicalist position, meaning that the mind is not something separate from the body. Nevertheless, they disagree as to whether mental states could eventually be explained by physical descriptions (reductionism), or whether they will always have its own vocabulary (non-reductionism). With the sophistication of neuroscience and the predominance of the physicalist position, it may seem that the importance of philosophy of mind is losing relevance, not only for those who are reductionist in their opinion about the relationship between the mind and the brain but even to non-reductionists as well. For example, William Vallicella recently answered the question, "Is Philosophy of Mind Relevant to the Practice of Neuroscience?" in the following way:
Off the top of my 'head,' it seems to me that […] it should make no difference at all to the practicing neuroscientist what philosophy of mind he accepts.
Valicella’s answer betrays an inclination towards neurocentrism (the view that human behavior can be best explained by looking solely or primarily at the brain). According to Vallicella, neuroscience would not be affected by any philosophies of mind, since one can always find a way to make philosophical premises correspond to biological findings (with a little work). Relevance is equated with correspondence, and philosophy of mind must fit into the findings of neuroscience. If it doesn't, there is no contradiction; rather, philosophy becomes irrelevant.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Drug Made Me Do It: An Examination of the Prozac Defense

The plot of a recent Hollywood thriller, Side Effects, revolves around many pressing legal and ethical questions surrounding the use of anti-depressant medications. The movie explores the life of a supposedly depressed woman—Emily Taylor—who seeks treatment from her psychiatrist. Emily’s doctor prescribes her an anti-depressant—Ablixa. Emily then proceeds to murder her husband in cold blood while under the influence of the drug. The movie seeks to explore the culpability of this depressed woman in a legal sense. During the trial, the psychiatrist argues that neither he nor Emily Taylor is responsible; rather, Emily Taylor was simply “a hopeless victim of circumstance and biology.” Is it possible that a drug could be responsible for one’s actions as argued by the psychiatrist in the movie? The answer is not clear. Nonetheless, the possibility that someone could escape criminal punishment due to a certain anti-depressant represents a serious ethical quandary that should be examined.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Effect of Theoretical Ethics on Actual Behavior: Implications for Neuroethics

Neil Levy
By Neil Levy, PhD

Neil Levy is the Deputy Director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, Head of Neuroethics at Florey Neuroscience Institutes, University of Melbourne, and a member of the AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board. His research examines moral responsibility and free will.

Might doing ethics be harmful to your moral health? One would expect just the opposite: the deeper you think about ethics, the more you read and the larger the number of cases you consider, the more expertise you acquire. Bioethicists and neuroethicists are moral experts, one might think. That’s why it is appropriate for media organizations to ask us for our opinion, or for hospitals and research institutions to ask us to serve on institutional review boards.