Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 573–591 | Cite as

Neuroscience, Neuropolitics and Neuroethics: The Complex Case of Crime, Deception and fMRI

  • Stuart Henry
  • Dena Plemmons


Scientific developments take place in a socio-political context but scientists often ignore the ways their innovations will be both interpreted by the media and used by policy makers. In the rush to neuroscientific discovery important questions are overlooked, such as the ways: (1) the brain, environment and behavior are related; (2) biological changes are mediated by social organization; (3) institutional bias in the application of technical procedures ignores race, class and gender dimensions of society; (4) knowledge is used to the advantage of the powerful; and (5) its applications may reinforce existing structures of power that pose ethical questions about distributive justice. The case of crime, deception and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) shows the complexity, and the political and ethical challenges that confront those who seek to use neuroscience to explain the etiology of crime, and who base policy on its findings. An ethically grounded neuroscience needs to take account of existing structures of power and difference, and to develop a public neuropolitical consciousness that ensures that those subject to risk by the application of science and technology are participants in the decision-making processes involving the implementation of policies that affect them.


Biosocial theories of crime Brain and criminal behavior Criminal justice policy Deception fMRI Neuroethics Neuroimaging Neuropolitics Neuroscience 



We thank Machiel Keestra, Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Amsterdam, and several external reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Ethics Program, 0612University of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.School of Public AffairsSan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

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