The recent explosion of neuroscience techniques has been game-changing in terms of understanding the healthy brain, and in the development of neuropsychiatric treatments. One of the key techniques 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. Already fMRI has been used to detect conscious activity in some patients who had all indications of being in a vegetative state, and even enabled us to communicate with some of them. This is just one of the many striking areas in which fMRI can be used to 'read minds'. As neuroscientists unravel the brain networks of self-control and morality, we might find abnormalities in criminal offenders. Could we predict crimes before they are committed? fMRI has also been used to detect racial bias in some people who regarded themselves as fair-minded. Meanwhile, the reliability of fMRI as a lie detector in murder cases or as a tool for marketing is being debated. Sex, Lies, and Brain Scans takes readers beyond the media headlines.
Barbara 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 brain scans be allowed at airports to screen for terrorists? Should they be used to vet future judges and teachers? How far will we allow neuroscience to go? It is time to make up our minds.
Barbara J Sahakian is Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry and the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute. She is also an Honorary Clinical Psychologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. She holds a PhD and a DSc from the University of Cambridge. She is Past-President of the International Neuroethics Society, Past-President of the British Association for Psychopharmacology, and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Sahakian is also a Member of the International Expert Jury for the 2017 Else Kroener-Fresenius-Stiftung Prize and a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Brain Research. 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. Julia Gottwald is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Psychiatry. She has a strong interest in interdisciplinary research and holds academic degrees in Biochemistry from Free University (Germany) and Neuroscience from the University of Oxford. She is enthusiastic about science communication and is involved in public engagement events, such as Pint of Science and the Cambridge Science Festival. She won the BAP Public Communication Prize 2016 for communicating science to the public, and her 800-word article explaining her research to the general public was shortlisted for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2014.