News and analysis on the implications of brain science

Seeking Clues to Criminality in the Brain

by Carl Sherman | February 22, 2018

With improved imaging and using new maps of the connections in the brain, researchers find anatomical suggestions that a particular circuit is altered in some people who commit crimes. Might such applications be used in decisions about sentencing, parole, and post-release monitoring? “Probably not in the next 5 years, but maybe in the next 20,” says one.

Scientists studying psychoactive drugs accidentally proved the self is an illusion

by Ephrat Livni

Quartz | February 9, 2018

Philosophers and mystics have long contemplated the disconcerting notion that the fixed self is an illusion. Neuroscientists now think they can prove it or, at least, help us glimpse this truth with some help from psilocybin, the psychoactive property in magic mushrooms.

Sedate a Plant, and It Seems to Lose Consciousness. Is It Conscious?

by Joanna Klein

New York Times | February 2, 2018

Under poor soil conditions, the pea seems to be able to assess risk. The sensitive plant can make memories and learn to stop recoiling if you mess with it enough. The Venus fly trap appears to count when insects trigger its trap. And plants can communicate with one another and with caterpillars. Now, a study published recently in Annals of Botany has shown that plants can be frozen in place with a range of anesthetics, including the types that are used when you undergo surgery.

The International Roots of Future Neuroethics

by Denis Larrivee

Neuroethics Blog | January 30, 2018

At the International Neuroethics Society’s annual meeting in 2017, panels underlined both the rapid upswing of global investment in neuroscience and the internationally perceived need for ethical deliberation about its interpretive significance, distinctive cultural manifestations, and evolution of complementary policy and juridical structures best serving global versus regional interests.

The ‘Killer Robots’ Are Us

by Michael Robillard

NYT Opinion Pages | January 29, 2018

The current language in the killer robot debate suggests that those weapons are capable of acting without meaningful human control, and that their creation and use is somehow distinct from other sorts of collective actions. It also suggests that potential harm arising from that creation and use may be morally unattributable to those who create and use them.

Cocktail of Brain Chemicals May Be a Key to What Makes Us Human

by Bret Stetka

Scientific American | January 24, 2018

A study that compares us with other primates finds a brain region linked to social behavior that may offer a biological explanation for why humans, not chimps, produced Shakespeare, Gandhi and Einstein.

People Struggling With Addiction Need Help. Does Forcing Them Into Treatment Work?

by Dr. Carl Erik Fisher

Slate | January 18, 2018

It depends on the type of coercion you use, says a clinical psychiatrist who has reviewed the data.

A Popular Algorithm Is No Better at Predicting Crimes Than Random People

by Ed Yong

The Atlantic | January 17, 2018

The COMPAS tool is widely used to assess a defendant’s risk of committing more crimes, but a new study puts its usefulness into perspective.

The non-binary brain

by Emily Willingham

Aeon | January 2, 2018

Misogynists are fascinated by the idea that human brains are biologically male or female. But they’ve got the science wrong.

Six-year-olds and chimpanzees will pay to watch punishment

by Ephrat Livni

Quartz | December 22, 2017

Small children and chimpanzees are gleeful when they see just punishment for antisocial behavior, according to a study published Dec. 18 in Nature Human Behavior.

Social Notworking: Is Generation Smartphone Really More Prone to Unhappiness?

by Angus Chen

Scientific American | December 13, 2017

A study closely correlates device use with depression and suicide, but the link is contentious.

AI algorithms to prevent suicide gain traction

by Sara Reardon

Nature | December 12, 2017

Facebook is one of several companies exploring ways to detect online behavious that have been linked to self-harm. Some experts are concerned about privacy and the companies’ limited transparency, especially given the lack of evidence so far that digital interventions work.

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