Neuroethics Publications

'Neuroethics' is the ethics of neuroscience, analogous to the term 'bioethics' which denotes the ethics of biomedical science more generally. It encompasses a wide array of ethical issues emerging from different branches of clinical neuroscience (neurology, psychiatry, psychopharmacology) and basic neuroscience (cognitive neuroscience, affective neuroscience). These include ethical problems raised by advances in functional neuroimaging, brain implants and brain-machine interfaces and psychopharmacology as well as by our growing understanding of the neural bases of behavior, personality, consciousness, and states of spiritual transcendence. This collection brings together the work of a growing number of Penn researchers from across the academic disciplines who are contributing to the neuroethics literature.




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Now showing 1 - 10 of 150
  • Publication
    Brain Imaging Research on Psychopathy: Implications for Punishment, Prediction, and Treatment in Youth and Adults
    (2015-07-01) Umbach, Rebecca; Berryessa, Colleen; Raine, Adrian
    While there has been an exponential increase in brain imaging research on psychopathy in the past two decades, knowledge on the brain basis to child and adolescent psychopathic-like behavior is relatively new. This adult and child research has potential future implications for the development of new interventions, prediction of future offending, and punishment. This review examines both adult and child literatures on the neural basis of psychopathy, together with implications for the criminal justice system. The adult imaging literature provides growing evidence for amygdala structural and functional impairments in psychopaths, and more variable evidence for prefrontal deficits. The emerging child and adolescent imaging literature with notable exceptions broadly parallels these adult findings and may help explain the development of fearlessness, disinhibition, and lack of empathy. This knowledge places policy makers at a crossroads. Should new biological interventions be developed to remediate these brain abnormalities? Would imaging be used in the future to predict offending? Could imaging findings help excuse psychopathic behavior or alternatively argue for longer sentences for public protection? This review attempts to address these issues at the child and adult levels and provides directions for future research that include the incorporation of biological measures into treatment programs.
  • Publication
    Neurocriminology: Implications for the Punishment, Prediction and Prevention of Criminal Behaviour
    (2014-01-01) Glenn, Andrea L; Raine, Adrian
    Criminal behaviour and violence are increasingly viewed as worldwide public health problems. A growing body of knowledge shows that criminal behaviour has a neurobiological basis, and this has intensified judicial interest in the potential application of neuroscience to criminal law. It also gives rise to important questions. What are the implications of such application for predicting future criminal behaviour and protecting society? Can it be used to prevent violence? And what are the implications for the way offenders are punished?
  • Publication
    Neural Correlates of Post-Conventional Moral Reasoning: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study
    (2015-06-03) Rao, Hengyi; Prehn, Kristin; Korczykowski, Marc; Detre, John A; Robertson, Diana C; Fang, Zhuo
    Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.
  • Publication
    Psychopathy and Free Will From a Philosophical and Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective
    (2015-10-01) Glenn, Andrea L; Focquaert, Farah; Raine, Adrian
    In our chapter, we discuss one of the most influential compatibilist accounts of free will, Fischer and Ravizza's (1998) reasons-responsiveness theory, and review the empirical literature on psychopathy that addresses the requirements for moral responsibility that are put forward in their account. Reasons-responsive compatibilist views seem to argue for the absence of moral responsibility or at least diminished responsibility when considering psychopathy. Their view draws upon impairments in the relevant kind of reasons-responsiveness in which one is responsive to both prudential and moral reasons. If moral reasons as genuine reasons that may motivate behavior are somehow aliento individuals with psychopathy, can we argue that these individuals are fully responsible for their immoral behavior? Based on empirical findings, we argue that psychopaths have core affective and cognitive deficits that may impair moral rationality. We conclude that the hard determinist, hard incompatibilist, and reasons-responsive compatibilist view suggest that offenders with severe psychopathy should not be held criminally responsible, and that mild psychopathy should function as a mitigating factor allowing for partial criminal responsibility. We should greatly increase our emphasis on early prevention and rehabilitation while ensuring that society is adequately protected and the feelings and rights of victims are respected. What we fear – or at any rate a very important part of what we fear – in determinism is the prospect that determinism would rule out control, and we very definitely do not want to lose control or be out of control or be controlled by something or someone else – like a marionette or puppet. (Dennett, 1984: 51)
  • Publication
    Emotional Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels Reduce the Electrophysiological Brain Response to Smoking Cues
    (2015-03-01) Wang, An-Li; Romer, Daniel; Turetsky, Bruce I; Gur, Ruben; Langleben, Daniel D; Elman, Igor
    There is an ongoing public debate about the new graphic warning labels (GWLs) that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes to place on cigarette packs. Tobacco companies argued that the strongly emotional images FDA proposed to include in the GWLs encroached on their constitutional rights. The court ruled that FDA did not provide sufficient scientific evidence of compelling public interest in such encroachment. This study's objectives were to examine the effects of the GWLs on the electrophysiological and behavioral correlates of smoking addiction and to determine whether labels rated higher on the emotional reaction (ER) scale are associated with greater effects. We studied 25 non-treatment-seeking smokers. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants viewed a random sequence of paired images, in which visual smoking (Cues) or non-smoking (non-Cues) images were preceded by GWLs or neutral images. Participants reported their cigarette craving after viewing each pair. Dependent variables were magnitude of P300 ERPs and self-reported cigarette craving in response to Cues. We found that subjective craving response to Cues was significantly reduced by preceding GWLs, whereas the P300 amplitude response to Cues was reduced only by preceding GWLs rated high on the ER scale. In conclusion, our study provides experimental neuroscience evidence that weighs in on the ongoing public and legal debate about how to balance the constitutional and public health aspects of the FDA-proposed GWLs. The high toll of smoking-related illness and death adds urgency to the debate and prompts consideration of our findings while longitudinal studies of GWLs are underway.
  • Publication
    Preclinical Alzheimer Disease - The Challenges Ahead
    (2013-01-01) Sperling, Reisa A; Karlawish, Jason; Johnson, Keith A
    There is growing recognition that the pathophysiological process of Alzheimer disease (AD) begins many years prior to clinically obvious symptoms, and the concept of a presymptomatic or preclinical stage of AD is becoming more widely accepted. Advances in biomarker studies have enabled detection of AD pathology in vivo in clinically normal older individuals. The predictive value of these biomarkers at the individual patient level, however, remains to be elucidated. The ultimate goal of identifying individuals in the preclinical stages of AD is to facilitate early intervention to delay and perhaps even prevent emergence of the clinical syndrome. A number of challenges remain to be overcome before this concept can be validated and translated into clinical practice.
  • Publication
    Ethics of Genetic and Biomarker Test Disclosures in Neurodegenerative Disease Prevention Trials
    (2015-04-07) Kim, Scott Y. H; Karlawish, Jason; Berkman, Benjamin E
    OBJECTIVE: Prevention trials for neurodegenerative diseases use genetic or other risk marker tests to select participants but there is concern that this could involve coercive disclosure of unwanted information. This has led some trials to use blinded enrollment (participants are tested but not told of their risk marker status). We examined the ethics of blinded vs transparent enrollment using well-established criteria for assessing the ethics of clinical research. METHODS: Normative analysis applying 4 key ethical criteria-favorable risk-benefit ratio, informed consent, fair subject selection, and scientific validity-to blinded vs transparent enrollment, using current evidence and state of Alzheimer disease (AD) and other prevention trials. RESULTS: Current evidence on the psychosocial impact of risk marker disclosure and considerations of scientific benefit do not support an obligation to use blinded enrollment in prevention trials. Nor does transparent enrollment coerce or involve undue influence of potential participants. Transparent enrollment does not unfairly exploit vulnerable participants or limit generalizability of scientific findings of prevention trials. However, if the preferences of a community of potential participants would affect the rigor or feasibility of a prevention trial using transparent enrollment, then investigators are required by considerations of scientific validity to use blinded enrollment. CONCLUSIONS: Considerations of risks and benefits, informed consent, and fair subject selection do not require the use of blinded enrollment for AD prevention trials. Blinded enrollment in AD prevention trials may sometimes be necessary because of the need for scientific validity, not because it prevents coercion or undue influence.
  • Publication
    Social Influence and the Brain: Persuasion, Susceptibility to Influence and Retransmission
    (2015-06-01) Cascio, Christopher N; Scholz, Christin; Falk, Emily B
    Social influence is an important topic of research, with a particularly long history in the social sciences. Recently, social influence has also become a topic of interest among neuroscientists. The aim of this review is to highlight current research that has examined neural systems associated with social influence, from the perspective of being influenced as well as influencing others, and highlight studies that link neural mechanisms with real-world behavior change beyond the laboratory. Although many of the studies reviewed focus on localizing brain regions implicated in influence within the lab, we argue that approaches that account for networks of brain regions and that integrate neural data with data beyond the laboratory are likely to be most fruitful in understanding influence.
  • Publication
    Law and Neuroscience
    (2013-11-06) Jones, Owen D; Marois, Réne; Farah, Martha J; Greely, Henry
  • Publication
    Getting the Word Out: Neural Correlates of Enthusiastic Message Propagation
    (2012-11-26) Falk, Emily B; O'Donnell, Matthew Brook; Liberman, Matthew D
    What happens in the mind of a person who first hears a potentially exciting idea? We examined the neural precursors of spreading ideas with enthusiasm, and dissected enthusiasm into component processes that can be identified through automated linguistic analysis, gestalt human ratings of combined linguistic and non-verbal cues, and points of convergence/divergence between the two. We combined tools from natural language processing (NLP) with data gathered using fMRI to link the neurocognitive mechanisms that are set in motion during initial exposure to ideas and subsequent behaviors of these message communicators outside of the scanner. Participants' neural activity was recorded as they reviewed ideas for potential television show pilots. Participants' language from video-taped interviews collected post-scan was transcribed and given to an automated linguistic sentiment analysis (SA) classifier, which returned ratings for evaluative language (evaluative vs. descriptive) and valence (positive vs. negative). Separately, human coders rated the enthusiasm with which participants transmitted each idea. More positive sentiment ratings by the automated classifier were associated with activation in neural regions including medial prefrontal cortex; MPFC, precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex; PC/PCC, and medial temporal lobe; MTL. More evaluative, positive, descriptions were associated exclusively with neural activity in temporal-parietal junction (TPJ). Finally, human ratings indicative of more enthusiastic sentiment were associated with activation across these regions (MPFC, PC/PCC, DMPFC, TPJ, and MTL) as well as in ventral striatum (VS), inferior parietal lobule and premotor cortex. Taken together, these data demonstrate novel links between neural activity during initial idea encoding and the enthusiasm with which the ideas are subsequently delivered. This research lays the groundwork to use machine learning and neuroimaging data to study word of mouth communication and the spread of ideas in both traditional and new media environments.