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  • Neuroethical considerations in mind, brain, and education research Meghan Taevs Courtney Pollack, Harvard University

    Neuroethics concept Examples from the literature

    Scientific issues • Statistical, not conceptual relevance (Takala, 2010) • Uncertainty of neuroscience findings (Takala) •  From empirical claims to normative claims (Takala; Glannon,


    Prediction • Behavioral predictions based on neuroscience findings (Illes & Bird, 2006) • Predictive neuroimaging with pharmacological intervention

    (Glannon) • Brainotyping (Farah, 2005)

    Neuro-manipulation • Curing (Häyry, ; Glannon; Illes & Bird) • Enhancement (Illes & Bird; Moreno, 2003; Illes & Bird, Farah 2004,


    Communication • Selective reporting (Schlaepfer & Fins, 2010) • Public discourse and training (Illes & Bird) •  Incidental findings (Illes & Bird, Glannon; Häyry, 2010)

    Social Issues

    Considerations Child-rearing, technological advances, brain life and brain death, neurotoxicity of food additives, direct-to-consumer advertising of neuroproducts (Illes & Bird); neuromarketing, brain privacy (Farah, 2004, 2005)

    Policy applications Impact of neuroscience in the workplace or classroom, impact of poverty and abuse on neurodevelopment (Illes & Bird)

    Philosophical issues

    Considerations Mind and matter, free will, thinking and the brain (Häyry)

    Applications Free will and criminal responsibility (Takala), personal identity (Moreno), impaired consent (Moreno; Illes & Bird)

    Introduction Recently, literature has emerged that focuses on ethical considerations in educational neuroscience (Sheridan, Zinchenko, & Gardner, in press; Stein, della Chiesa, Hinton, & Fischer, in press). Through this poster, we hope to contribute to and promote the discussion of ethics in educational neuroscience and Mind, Brain, and Education [MBE]. We present a synthesis of neuroethics concepts and explore the relationship between these concepts and recent empirical MBE research.

    Methods A survey of the neuroethics literature provided a set of neuroethics concepts for consideration (see Table 1). Neuroethics concepts that may be particularly important to MBE research are in bold. A second review of literature was undertaken in order to find examples of recent MBE neuroscience research. The following specifications were used: Work must be empirically based; work must be published in 2009 or later; and work must be relevant to the field of MBE. For our purposes, research relevant to MBE was defined as research that clearly investigated education-related topics (e.g. reading, number sense, children’s emotions) using cognitive neuroscience methods. These studies did not need to be classroom-based or use children as participants. With these requirements, ten exemplar studies were selected. Each exemplar empirical study was investigated through the lens of the relevant neuroethics concepts outlined in Table 1.

    References Clark, C.A.C., Pritchard, V.E., & Woodward, L.J. (2010). Preschool executive functioning abilities predict early mathematics achievement. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1176-1191. Cloutman, L., Gingis, L., Newhart, M., Davis, C., Heidler-Gary, J., Crinion, J., & Hillis, A.E. (2009). A neural network critical for spelling. Annals of Neurology, 66(2), 249-253. Dall’Oglio, A.M., Rossiello, B., Coletti, M., Bultrini, M., De Marchis, C., Rava, L., Caselli, C., Paris, S., & Cuttini, M. (2010). Do healthy preterm children need neurpsychological follow-up? Preschool outcomes compared with term peers. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 52, 955-961. Farah, M. J. (2004). Neuroethics: A guide for the perplexed. Cerebrum. Retrieved online from: Farah, M. J. (2005). Neuroethics: The practical and the philosophical. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, 9(1), 34-40. Fischer, M.H., Mills, R.A., & Shaki, S. (2010). How to cook a SNARC: Number placement in text rapidly changes spatial-numerical associations. Brain and Cognition, 72, 333-336. Glannon, W. (2006). Neuroethics. Bioethics, 20(1), 37-52. Häyry, M. (2010). Neuroethical theories. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 19, 165-178. Hoehl, S., Brauer, J., Brasse, G., Striano, T., & Friederici, A.D. (2010). Children’s processing of emotions expressed by peers and adults: An fMRI study. Social Neuroscience, iFirst, 1-17. Illes, J., & Bird, S. J. (2006). Neuroethics: A modern context for ethics in neuroscience. TRENDS in Neurosciences, 29(9), 511-517. Illes, J., Moser, M. A., McCormick, J. B., Racine, E., Blakeslee, S., Caplan, A., . . . Weiss, S. (2010) NeuroTalk: Improving the communication of neuroscience research. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11, 61-69. Koyama, M.S., Kelly, C., Shehzad, Z., Penesetti, D., Castellanos, F.X., & Milham, M.P. (2010). Reading networks at rest. Cerebral Cortex. Kyle, F.E. & Harris, M. (2006). Concurrent correlates and predictors of reading and spelling achievement in deaf and hearing children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(3), 273-288. Longo, M.R. & Lourenco, S.F. (2010). Bisecting the mental number line in near and far space. Brain and Cognition, 72, 362-367. Moreno, J. D. (2003). Neuroethics: An agenda for neuroscience and society. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 4, 149-153. Sahyoun, C.P., Belliveau, J.W., & Mody, M. (2010). White matter integrity and pictorial reasoning in high-functioning children with autism. Brain and Cognition, 73, 180-188. Schlaepfer, T. E. & Fins, J. J. (2010). Deep brain stimulation and the neuroethics of responsible publishing: When one is not enough. JAMA, 303(8), 775-776. Sheridan, K., Zinchenko, E., & Gardner, H. (in press). Neuroethics in education. In J. Illes & B. J. Sahakian (Eds.), Oxford handbook of neuroethics (pp. 265-275). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Stein, Z., della Chiesa, B., Hinton, C., & Fischer, K.W. (in press). Ethical issues in educational neuroscience: Raising children in a Brave New World. In J. Illes & B. J. Sahakian (Eds.), Oxford handbook of neuroethics (pp. 1-32). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Takala, T. (2010). Introduction to philosophical issues in neuroethics. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 19, 161-163. Thaler, V., Urton, K., Heine, A., Hawelka, S., Engl, V., Jacobs, A.M. (2009). Different behavioral and eye movement patterns of dyslexic readers with and without attentional deficits during single word reading. Neuropsychologia, 47, 2436-2445.

    Table 1. Classification of neuroethics concepts and examples from the literature. Ethical concepts that may play a role in educational neuroscience work are in bold.

    Discussion Empirical to normative claims in neuroscience findings, especially when making the leap from laboratory to classroom or from research using adults to children, merits ethical consideration. The utility of neuroscience research in making predictions about learning and development, abnormal or otherwise, also appears to be an important ethical concern. Communication of potentially confusing results and the potential of neuroscience research to improve or cure developmental problems are other relevant ethical considerations apparent in the exemplar studies investigated here. While some researchers explicitly discussed these ethical concerns in their papers (e.g. Clark, Pritchard, & Woodward, 2010; Dall’Oglio et al., 2010), others completely ignored the ethical implications of their work, even where potentially misinterpreted results warrant discussion (e.g. Hoehl et al., 2010; Koyama et al., 2010).

    Results Of the ten articles examined, three articles (Kyle & Harris, 2010; Thaler et al. 2009; Fischer, Mills, & Shaki, 2009) did not have apparent neuroethical considerations. In the remaining seven articles, a subset of neuroethical concepts were applicable, indicating these concepts may be especially significant when designing and doing MBE research. Additionally, we found that some articles explicitly discussed ethical implications of their work (for results, see Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Results of our analysis, showing neuroethics concepts, examples, and relevant empirical MBE research

    Conclusion As research in mind, brain, and education continues to burgeon, the ethical consequences of such research require attention. Distilling relevant concepts from neuroethics can provide a useful starting point for developing the ethical considerations of mind, brain, and education work.


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