The Brain In Context
Sarah W. Denton is a research assistant with the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Wilson Center. Denton is also a research assistant with the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University. Her research primarily focuses on ethical and governance implications for emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, neurotechnology, gene-editing technology, and pharmaceuticals.
Farah’s findings suggest that the most pronounced socioeconomic-derived disparities were both executive function associated with the prefrontal cortex and declarative memory associated with the hippocampus. We know that the brain is usually discussed in a descriptive and mechanistic way, but this conception may be unhelpful. Although there are currently no unique implications, research moving towards a more illustrative and actionable understanding of the brain in context is adding to the weight of evidence that our environment, including SES, has profound affects on our brains. Thus, neuroethics and neuroscience policy is relevant precisely because it increases the weight of evidence. The end goal of Farah’s research program is to understand poverty using insight from neuroscience in order to help “break the cycle” and guide future policy decisions.
|Image courtesy of Pexels.
One implication of Thomason’s research is that we no longer need to limit the brain to a postnatal context- neural connectivity begins prior to birth. This suggests that prenatal brain development is intimately tied to the mother’s environment and psycho-physio state, which may have a wide range of implications that have yet to be explored. This is just the beginning for Thomason and prenatal neuro-connectivity research, and I am eager to see neuroethicists explore the implications of the brain in the context of the womb.
|Image courtesy of Pixabay.
As a general rule of thumb, owning a console or tablet presents more risks than benefits, such as insomnia and social-skill development, for children under the age of six . But, by the time they reach their teenage years, certain action-oriented games can indeed improve cognitive abilities such as visual attention and decision-making . To address this discrepancy, we must educate children and their parents on how their brains work and how screens affect their brain functions.
All three panelists presented neuroscience research in the social context. Martha Farah’s presentation showed how social and other environmental factors, like income, can have significant effects on brain development. Moriah Thomason’s presentation of her research went even farther – connecting stress levels of mothers to prenatal brain development. Finally, Hervé Chneiweiss spoke on how the use of screens, like those found in television sets and iPhones, can not only affect child and adolescent brain development but can also affect how they interact in the social environments around them.
The primary takeaway from this session is that our brains do not develop in a neuropsychiatric vacuum- our social and cultural environments can have significant implications for neuroscience. In the Q&A after the presentations, I found it of particular interest that each panelist agreed that the social context is the most important context when it comes to understanding the brain and conducting neuroscientific research.
Now, as we move forward, we should approach neuroscience research and its findings in the context of our social environments if we are to create a more holistic understanding of the brain.
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Denton, S. (2018). The Brain In Context. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2018/03/the-brain-in-context.html