Introducing Students to Sensitive Issues of Ethics that Arise in Research on the Human Brain

Achievement date: 
2015
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Roundtable discussions helped spur college and high school students to consider how ethical issues could arise amid research into brain-computer interfaces (BCI). The discussions, held over several days at four campuses, were led by neuroethics fellows from the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) based at the University of Washington (UW).  

Impact/benefits: 

Students said the discussions showed them how neuroethics could impact engineering decisions, particularly the sensitive issues that arise in the context of research on the human brain. Students described how they came to understand, for example, that informed consent should be obtained both pre- and post-treatment, particularly when the BCI research prompts personality and behavioral changes in human subjects. 

Explanation/Background: 

The Neuroethics Thrust at CSNE draws from collaborative research, interviews of PIs of CSNE projects, and focus groups of potential end users for BCI technology. The Neuroethics Thrust has developed a novel ethics engagement model for science and engineering, a sustained focus on creating opportunities for reflective collaboration, and continued opportunities for interaction between ethicists and researchers through conversation and shared activities.

In bringing roundtable discussions to four institutions—San Diego State University, MIT, Southwestern College, and Morse High School—two fellows working on behalf of the Center’s Neuroethics Thrust sought to ensure that CSNE student members get experience with neuroethics during their time with the Center. Building on the success of the integration of graduate Neuroethics Fellows into CSNE labs, these ethics roundtables allow the concepts to reach researchers and students who may not have access to neuroethics materials otherwise.