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Neuroethical Issues in Cognitive Enhancement and Neuroimaging

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Amparo E. Flores.

There will be a wine reception at 5:30 pm before the lecture begins at 6 pm.

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Gauguin 1897

Neuroethics is the study of the ethical, legal and social questions that arise when scientific findings about the brain are carried into medical practice, legal interpretations and health and social policy (Dana Foundation Conference Proceedings, Marcus, 2002). This talk will focus on some of these important questions as they relate to the use of cognitive enhancing drugs (Farah et al 2004; Turner and Sahakian 2006a).

The prospect of being able to take safe and effective drugs to improve mental functioning is fast becoming a reality. Cognitive enhancement is of great interest to the general public and has implications for society, particularly in regard to the increasing use of cognitive enhancing drugs in school age children and young adults in university (Turner and Sahakian 2006b). The enormous and obvious potential benefits of ‘smart drugs’ need to be considered against the perhaps less obvious potential harms, for example unknown effects on the developing brain or coercion at school or work.

The talk concludes by urging neuroscientists to explore the implications of their work and engage in active debate with a wide range of interested stakeholders about the ethical and moral consequences of these new technologies to ensure maximal benefit to Society with minimal harm (see e.g. ‘Neuroethics needed’ Nature, 2006).


Farah MJ, Illes J, Cook-Deegan R, Gardner H, Kandel E, King P, Parens E, Sahakian BJ and Wolpe PR. 2004 Neurocognitive enhancement: what can we do and what should we do? Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5, 421-425.

Marcus D, 2002. Neuroethics: Mapping the field conference proceedings. May 13-14, 2002, San Francisco, California. New York, The Dana Press.

Neuroethics needed. vol. 441, issue no. 7096, 22 June 2006, p907.

Turner DC and Sahakian BJ, 2006a. Neuroethics of cognitive enhancement. BioSocieties 1 113-123.

Turner DC and Sahakian BJ, 2006b. The cognition-enhanced classroom. In Better Humans edited by Paul Miller and James Wilsdon. Published by DEMOS Collection 21: 79-85.

This talk is part of the Gates Distinguished Lecture Series series.

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