, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 119–134 | Cite as

The Need for Interdisciplinary Dialogue in Developing Ethical Approaches to Neuroeducational Research

Original Paper


This paper argues that many ethical issues in neuroeducational research cannot be appropriately addressed using the principles and guidance available in one of these areas alone, or by applying these in simple combination. Instead, interdisciplinary and public dialogue will be required to develop appropriate normative principles. In developing this argument, it examines neuroscientific and educational perspectives within three broad categories of ethical issue arising at the interface of cognitive neuroscience and education: issues regarding the carrying out of interdisciplinary research, the scrutiny and communication of findings and concepts, and the application of research and associated issues of policy likely to arise in the future. To help highlight the need for interdisciplinary and public discussion, we also report the opinions of a group of educators (comprising trainee teachers, teachers and head teachers) on the neuroeducational ethics of cognitive enhancing drugs, infant screening, genetic profiling and animal research.


Educational neuroscience Neuroeducational research Education Cognitive enhancing drugs Infant screening Genetic profiling Animal research 


  1. 1.
    Cantlon, J.F., E.M. Brannon, E.J. Carter, and K.A. Pelphrey. 2006. Functional imaging of numerical processing in adults and 4-y-old children. [Article]. Plos Biology 4(5): 844–854.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wilson, A.J., S. Dehaene, O. Dubois, and M. Fayol. 2009. Effects of an adaptive game intervention on accessing number sense in low-socioeconomic-status kindergarten children. Mind, Brain, and Education 3(4): 224–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Shaywitz, B.A., S.E. Shaywitz, B.A. Blachman, K.R. Pugh, R.K. Fullbright, P. Skudlarski, et al. 2004. Development of left occipitotemporal systems for skilled reading in children after a phonologically-based intervention. Biological Psychiatry 55(9): 926–933.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Simos, P.G., J.M. Fletcher, E. Bergman, J.I. Breier, B.R. Foorman, E.M. Castillo, et al. 2002. Dyslexia-specific brain activation profile becomes normal following successful remedial training. Neurology 58(8): 1203–1213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Temple, E., G. Deutsch, R.A. Poldrack, S.L. Miller, P. Tallal, and M.M. Merzenich. 2003. Neural deficits in children with dyslexia ameliorated by behavioral remediation: Evidence from functional fMRI. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 100: 2860–2865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hillman, C.H., K.I. Erickson, and A.F. Framer. 2008. Be smart, exercise your heart: Exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9: 58–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Blakemore, S.J. 2008. The social brain in adolescence. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9: 267–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Blakemore, S.J., and U. Frith. 2005. The learning brain. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    de Jong, T., T. van Gog, K. Jenks, S. Manlove, J. van Hell, J. Jolles, et al. 2009. Explorations in learning and the brain: On the potential of cognitive neuroscience for educational science. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Goswami, U. 2004. Neuroscience and education. British Journal of Educational Psychology 74: 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Fenton, K.D., and P.A. Howard-Jones. 2011. Educators’ views on ethical issues at the interface of neuroscience and education—an exploratory survey. University of Bristol. Available on
  12. 12.
    Howard-Jones, P.A. 2010. Introducing neuroeducational research. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Howard-Jones, P.A., S. Demetriou, R. Bogacz, J.H. Yoo, and U. Leonards. 2011. Toward a science of learning games. Mind, Brain and Education 5(1), 33–41.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Howard-Jones, P.A., and S. Demetriou. 2009. Uncertainty and engagement with learning games. Instructional Science 37(6): 519–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Howard-Jones, P.A., R. Bogacz, J.H. Yoo, U. Leonards, and S. Demetriou. 2010. The neural mechanisms of learning from competitors. Neuroimage 53(2): 790–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Shellock, F.G., and J.V. Crues. 2004. MR procedures: Biologic effects, safety, and patient care. Radiology 232(3): 635–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    BERA. 2004. Revised ethical guidelines for educational research (2004).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Illes, J., A.C. Rosen, L. Huang, R.A. Goldstein, T.A. Raffin, G. Swan, et al. 2004. Ethical consideration of incidental findings on adult brain MRI in research. [Article]. Neurology 62(6): 888–890.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Wolf, S.M., F.P. Lawrenz, C.A. Nelson, J.P. Kahn, M.K. Cho, E.W. Clayton, et al. 2007, May. Managing incidental findings in human subjects research: Analysis and recommendations. Paper presented at the Symposium on Findings in Human Subjects Research—From Imaging to Genomics, Minneapolis, MN.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    BPS. 2006. Code of ethics and conduct.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    AERA. 2000. Ethical standards of the American educational research association.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Leshner, A.I. 2005. It’s time to go public with neuroethics. [Editorial Material]. American Journal of Bioethics 5(2): 1–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Draganski, B., C. Gaser, V. Busch, G. Schuierer, U. Bogdahn, and A. May. 2004. Changes in grey matter induced by training. Nature 427: 311–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Paus, T. 2008. Mapping brain maturation and development of social cognition during adolescence. London: Government Office for Science.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Lerner, R.M. 2005. Promoting positive youth development: Theoretical and empirical bases. Washington DC: National Research Council/Institute of Medicine.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Taylor, C., and S. Gorrard. 2004. Combining methods in educational and social research. McGraw-Hill International.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Jensen, P.S., L.E. Arnold, J.E. Richters, J.B. Severe, D. Vereen, B. Vitiello, et al. 1999. A 14-month randomized clinical trial of treatment strategies for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. [Article]. Archives of General Psychiatry 56(12): 1073–1086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Coch, D. 2007. Neuroimaging research with children: Ethical issues and case scenarios. Journal of Moral Education 36(1): 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Downie, J., and J. Marshall. 2007. Pediatric neuroimaging ethics. [Article]. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 16(2): 147–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Kim, B.S., J. Illes, R.T. Kaplan, A. Reiss, and W. Scott. 2002. Incidental findings on pediatric MR images of the brain. [Article]. American Journal of Neuroradiology 23(10): 1674–1677.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Downie, J., M. Schmidt, N. Kenny, R. D’Arcy, M. Hadskis, and J. Marshall. 2007. Paediatric MRI research ethics: The priority issues. [Review]. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 4(2): 85–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Lundy, L. 2007. ‘Voice’ is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. [Article]. British Educational Research Journal 33(6): 927–942.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Coghlan, A. 2004, 27 January. Cambridge’s primate reseacrh centre axed. New Scientist. Retrieved from
  34. 34.
    Hagelin, J., H.-E. Carlsson, and J. Hau. 2003. An overview of surveys on how people view animal experimentation: Some factors that may influence the outcome. Public Understanding of Science 12: 67–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Baluch, B., and B. Kaur. 1995. Attitude change toward animal experimentation in an academic setting. Journal of Psychology 129(4): 477–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Lang, C. 2010. Science, education, and the ideology of “how”. Mind, Brain and Education 4(2): 49–52.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Pickering, S.J., and P.A. Howard-Jones. 2007. Educators’ views on the role of neuroscience in education: Findings from a study of UK and international perspectives. Mind, Brain and Education 1(3): 109–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Morse, S.J. 2006. Brain overclaim syndrome and criminal responsibility: A diagnostic note. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 3: 397–412.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Horton, J. 2006, 13th November. Stroppy teenagers can blame the brain. Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved from
  40. 40.
    Mills, D. (Writer). 2005. The dyslexia myth. In D. Mills (Producer), Dispatches. UK: Channel 4.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Nicolson, R. 2005. Dyslexia: Beyond the myth. The Psychologist 18(11): 658–659.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Howard-Jones, P.A. 2009. Scepticism is not enough discussion. Cortex 45(4): 550–551.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Sheridan, K., E. Zinchenko, and H. Gardner. 2006. Neuroethics in education. In Neuroethics: Defining the issues in theory, practice and policy, ed. J. Illes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Farah, M.J. 2002. Emerging ethical issues in neuroscience. [Article]. Nature Neuroscience 5(11): 1123–1129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    McCabe, S.E., J.R. Knight, C.J. Teter, and H. Wechser. 2005. Non-medical use of prescription stimulants among US college students: Prevalence and correlates from a national survey. [Article]. Addiction 100(1): 96–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    DeSantis, A.D., E.M. Webb, and S.M. Noar. 2008. Illicit use of prescription ADHD medications on a college campus: A multimethodological approach. [Article]. Journal of American College Health 56(3): 315–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Roman, G.C., and S.J. Rogers. 2004. Donepezil: A clinical review of current and emerging indications. [Review]. Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy 5(1): 161–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Gron, G., M. Kirstein, A. Thielscher, M.W. Riepe, and M. Spitzer. 2005. Cholinergic enhancement of episodic memory in healthy young adults. Psychopharmacology 182(1): 170–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Gazzaniga, M.S. 2005. Smarter on drugs. Scientific American: Mind 16: 32–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Greely, H., B. Sahakian, J. Harris, R.C. Kessler, M.S. Gazzaniga, P. Campbell, et al. 2008. Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy. Nature 456: 702–705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Horn, G. 2008. Brain science, addiction and drugs. London: Academy of Medical Sciences.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Jones, R., K. Morris, and D. Nutt. 2005. Drugs futures 2025? Foresight: Brain science, addiction and drugs state of science review. London: Office of Science and Technology, Department of Trade and Industry (UK).Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Molfese, D.L. 2000. Predicting dyslexia at 8 years of age using neonatal brain responses. Brain and Language 72: 238–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Guttorm, T.K., P.H.T. Leppanen, A.-M. Poikeus, K.M. Eklund, P. Lyytinen, and H. Lyytinen. 2005. Brain event-related potentials (ERPs) measured at birth predict later language development in children with and without familial risk for dyslexia. Cortex 41:291–303.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Friedrich, M. 2008. Early neural markers of language learning difficulty in German. London: Government Office for Science.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Szucs, D., F. Soltesz, E. Jarmi, and V. Csepe. 2007. The speed of magnitude processing and executive functions in controlled and automatic number comparison in children: An electro-encephalography study. [Article]. Behavioral and Brain Functions 3: 20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Goswami, U. 2008. Neuroscience in education. London: Government Office for Science.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Plomin, R. 2008. Genetics and the future diagnosis of learning disabilities. London: Government Office for Science.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Stein, Z. 2010. On the difference between designing children and raising them: Ethics and the use of educationally oriented biotechnology. Mind, Brain and Education 4(2): 53–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of EducationUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of West of EnglandBristolUK

Personalised recommendations