Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Consumer Neuroscience vs. Skepticism: An Inside Look at the Challenges of a Novel Field

By Ibrahima E. Diallo

Neuromarketing image courtesy of flickr user cmcbrown 
A few years ago, I read a New York Times article that really caught my attention. The article detailed the emergence of a technique that would allow marketers to “make ads that whisper to the brain.” The notion that researchers could probe my mind seemed like an exciting yet frightening proposition. As I read the article, it piqued my interest to learn more about “neuromarketing.”

What is neuromarketing and how does it work?

Consumer Neuroscience, also commonly referred to as Neuromarketing, is a relatively novel field, which uses neurophysiological techniques, such as brain imaging and electroencephalography, in order to gain insight on the decision-making process of the consumer. Consumer Neuroscience often utilizes not only brain imaging techniques, but also biometrics to gather data related to consumer behavior and decision-making (Ariely & Berns 2010). The data collected is used to gauge cognitive interest, memory activation, and emotional engagement in consumers to advertising stimuli; these data are used to optimize the advertisements and advertisement-related materials (Trabulsi et al. 2015). One way neuroimaging data for consumers is used is to shorten commercial advertisements to the parts that are the most impactful and engaging components to the consumer; this is an approach that saves a lot of money for company advertising campaigns since commercial slots can be costly (Trabulsi et al. 2015).

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Integration without reduction: What the philosophy of empathy can learn from mirror neurons

by Georgina Campelia

Georgina Campelia is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy at the Graduate Center, CUNY, working under the supervision of Virginia Held. Her dissertation, “Virtue’s Web: The Virtue of Empathic Attunement and the Need for a Relational Foundation,” develops an account of empathic attunement, defends its status as a virtue, and sketches a relational ontology of virtue that would better accommodate the relationality of this and other important virtues.

Georgina is currently an affiliate instructor at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Bioethics, where she teaches in their Certificate and Masters Programs. She also serves on the Steering Committee at the New York Society for Women and Philosophy (NYSWIP) and is a co-organizer of SWIPshop (a workshop for feminist philosophy).

As the lack of empathy in the world has become particularly apparent and troubling in light of the resistance to offering asylum for Muslim refugees (see this recent article from The Guardian), perhaps it makes sense that the study of empathy is booming (Coplan, 2014; Decety, 2012; de Waal, 2009). Philosophers question and defend its moral worth (Bloom, 2014), psychologists and primatologists consider its nature and origin (Hoffman, 2000; Waal, 2012), and neuroscientists explore its metaphysical structure (Singer, 2009; Zaki & Ochsner, 2012). Empathy offers a distinctive ground for interdisciplinary work and, yet, little has been done to advance cross-field communication. While some popular work offers broadly incorporated perspectives (de Waal, 2009), and there are some anthologies that include multiple disciplines (Coplan & Goldie, 2014; Decety, 2012), there is room for more robustly integrated research.

Image of a baby macaque imitating facial expressions, courtesy of Wikimedia.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

“Fetal assault” and later environment effects on child development: using neuroscience as a tool for political policy

By Carlie Hoffman

Premature infant, courtesy of Wikipedia
“Crack babies,” “crack kids,” and the “lost generation” were all terms used by the public and the press in the 1980s and 1990s to describe children born to mothers who used crack-cocaine during pregnancy. Supported and spurred on by the media’s interpretation of preliminary research performed by Dr. Ira Chasnoff, among others, these children were often born prematurely, had tremors and a small head circumference, and, based on their description in the press, were expected to have neurobehavioral deficits, reduced intelligence, and deficits in social skills. These children were also anticipated to cost educational and social systems thousands of dollars as they matured and entered into schools and eventually the workforce.

Yet, after additional studies have been conducted and as the “crack babies” have grown into adolescents and young adults, it has been found that the negative outcomes widely described by the media were overreaching and unsupported. “Crack babies” did not, in fact, present evidence of severe, broad problems with social development and cognitive functioning and did not prove to have the predicted detrimental social and financial effects on the school system. Instead, many of these children have grown into successful adults over the past two decades. Dr. Claire Coles, a researcher responsible for producing the first studies that challenged Chasnoff’s findings, thought the era of the “crack baby” had finally come to an end. However, as Coles discussed during the December Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News journal club, “crack babies” and similar stories about children exposed to opiates, have resurged in recent media publications (seen here and here) and are rearing their heads once again.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Responsibility: Revis(ion)ing brains via cognitive enhancement

By Shweta Sahu

The Statue of Liberty, an iconic symbol of
American opportunity; courtesy of Wikipedia
Most every parent wants their child to grow up to be a neurosurgeon, a lawyer, or the next gen Mark Zuckerberg. That was especially true in my case, as a first generation child. When I was two, my parents came to the United States, "the land of opportunity," seeking the success that they had only heard about in India. I grew up hearing their stories of hardship when they first moved here with an infant, without a car, without any extended family, and knowing very little working English. I witnessed them struggle tirelessly to make a life for themselves and they always said that without education you are nothing and will be no one. As a child, while my friends would go to sleepovers and camping trips with friends, my dad would spend time checking my math problems on the white board at home and my mom would make me spell 50 words correctly every night. But even with all that pressure, I never had the best GPA, I had to work incredibly hard to stay above the class average, and I almost always fell short of their expectations. So given the opportunity, would my parents have tried to enhance my cognitive ability?