Sex, Lies, and Brain Scans: How fMRI reveals what really goes on in our minds

Oxford University Press
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The recent explosion of neuroscience techniques has proved to be game changing in terms of understanding the healthy brain, and in the development of neuropsychiatric treatments. One of the key techniques available to us is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which allows us to examine the human brain non-invasively, and observe brain activity in real time. Through fMRI, we are beginning to build a deeper understanding of our thoughts, motivations, and behaviours. Recent reports that some patients who have all indications of being in a persistent vegetative state actually show conscious awareness, and were able to communicate with researchers, demonstrate perhaps the most remarkable and dramatic use of fMRI. But this is just the most striking of a number of areas in which fMRI is being used to 'read minds', albeit in a very limited way. As neuroscientists unravel the regions of the brain involved in reward and motivation, and in romantic love, we are likely to develop the capacity to influence responses such as love using drugs. fMRI studies have also been used to indicate that many people who would not regard themselves as racist show a racial bias in their emotional responses to faces of another racial group. Meanwhile, the reliability of fMRI as a lie detector in murder cases is being debated - what if the individual simply believes, falsely, that he or she committed a murder? Sex, Lies, and Brain Scans takes readers beyond the media headlines. Barbara J. Sahakian and Julia Gottwald consider what the technique of fMRI entails, and what information it can give us, showing which applications are possible today, and which ones are science fiction. They also consider the important ethical questions these techniques raise. Should individuals applying for jobs as teachers or judges be screened for unconscious racial bias? What if the manipulation of love using 'love potions' was misused for economic or military ends? How far will we allow neuroscience to go? It is time to make up our minds.
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About the author

Barbara J Sahakian is Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry and at the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and co-inventor of the Cambridge Cognition CANTAB computerized neuropsychological tests and the Peak Wizard memory game and Advances Training Plan. She is co-author of Bad Moves: How decision making goes wrong and the ethics of smart drugs (OUP, 2013), with Jamie Nicole LaBuzetta, and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics (OUP, 2011), with Judy Illes. Barbara J. Sahakian became a Fellow of the British Academy in 2017 Julia Gottwald is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Psychiatry at the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute. She has a strong interest in interdisciplinary research and holds academic degrees in Biochemistry from the Free University of Berlin and Neuroscience from the University of Oxford. She is very active in the public communication of science, through events such as Pint of Science and the Cambridge Science Festival, and was awarded the BAP Public Communication Prize 2016.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Feb 9, 2017
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Pages
192
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ISBN
9780191067181
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / General
Science / Life Sciences / Neuroscience
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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Content protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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An essential reconsideration of one of the most far-reaching theories in modern neuroscience and psychology. In 1992, a group of neuroscientists from Parma, Italy, reported a new class of brain cells discovered in the motor cortex of the macaque monkey. These cells, later dubbed mirror neurons, responded equally well during the monkey’s own motor actions, such as grabbing an object, and while the monkey watched someone else perform similar motor actions. Researchers speculated that the neurons allowed the monkey to understand others by simulating their actions in its own brain.

Mirror neurons soon jumped species and took human neuroscience and psychology by storm. In the late 1990s theorists showed how the cells provided an elegantly simple new way to explain the evolution of language, the development of human empathy, and the neural foundation of autism. In the years that followed, a stream of scientific studies implicated mirror neurons in everything from schizophrenia and drug abuse to sexual orientation and contagious yawning.

In The Myth of Mirror Neurons, neuroscientist Gregory Hickok reexamines the mirror neuron story and finds that it is built on a tenuous foundation—a pair of codependent assumptions about mirror neuron activity and human understanding. Drawing on a broad range of observations from work on animal behavior, modern neuroimaging, neurological disorders, and more, Hickok argues that the foundational assumptions fall flat in light of the facts. He then explores alternative explanations of mirror neuron function while illuminating crucial questions about human cognition and brain function: Why do humans imitate so prodigiously? How different are the left and right hemispheres of the brain? Why do we have two visual systems? Do we need to be able to talk to understand speech? What’s going wrong in autism? Can humans read minds?

The Myth of Mirror Neurons not only delivers an instructive tale about the course of scientific progress—from discovery to theory to revision—but also provides deep insights into the organization and function of the human brain and the nature of communication and cognition.

The past two decades have seen unparalleled developments in our knowledge of the brain and mind. However, these advances have forced us to confront head-on some significant ethical issues regarding our application of this information in the real world- whether using brain images to establish guilt within a court of law, or developing drugs to enhance cognition. Historically, any consideration of the ethical, legal, and social implications of emerging technologies in science and medicine has lagged behind the discovery of the technology itself. These delays have caused problems in the acceptability and potential applications of biomedical advances and posed significant problems for the scientific community and the public alike - for example in the case of genetic screening and human cloning. The field of Neuroethics aims to proactively anticipate ethical, legal and social issues at the intersection of neuroscience and ethics, raising questions about what the brain tells us about ourselves, whether the information is what people want or ought to know, and how best to communicate it. A landmark in the academic literature, the Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics presents a pioneering review of a topic central to the sciences and humanities. It presents a range of chapters considering key issues, discussion, and debate at the intersection of brain and ethics. The handbook contains more than 50 chapters by leaders from around the world and a broad range of sectors of academia and clinical practice spanning the neurosciences, medical sciences and humanities and law. The book focuses on and provides a platform for dialogue of what neuroscience can do, what we might expect neuroscience will do, and what neuroscience ought to do. The major themes include: consciousness and intention; responsibility and determinism; mind and body; neurotechnology; ageing and dementia; law and public policy; and science, society and international perspectives. Tackling some of the most significant ethical issues that face us now and will continue to do so over the coming decades, The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics will be an essential resource for the field of neuroethics for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, basic scientists in the neurosciences and psychology, scholars in humanities and law, as well as physicians practising in the areas of primary care in neurological medicine.
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