Has Our Knowledge of Neuroscience Led to Ethical Dilemmas?

Compiled by Susan Musante, AIBS, from an original activity titled "Ethical Decision Making - Neuroethics" authored by Caren Gough, Stony Brook University, and published by the Dolan DNA Learning Center on their Genes to Cognition Online website http://www.g2conline.org/.
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This is a lesson dealing with a new subdivision of bioethics called neuroethics. As our knowledge of the brain and nervous system expands, so do the ethical issues that result from this knowledge. This new area of study results from our increasing research in the field of neurobiology. In the first part of this activity, students will discuss the stigma associated with psychological illness. They will then be introduced to Dr. Kay Jamison who discusses some of the ethical implications of bipolar disorder. The class will take part in an activity called a Topical Barometer where they will have to choose a position regarding an ethical decision. In Part 2 of the activity, they will write a position paper after exploring the topic of drug enhancement, another controversial issue in the world of neuroscience. From the original handout text by Caren Gough

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Learning Goals

Students will be able to:
- Research information about drug enhancement using G2C Online.
- Write a position paper on a controversial topic regarding neuroethics.
- Discuss ethical issues with their classmates.

Context for Use

Students should have a basic understanding of the scientific concepts of an introductory general biology course, or of an introductory psychology course at the secondary or post-secondary level. Students should have some knowledge of doing internet research and selecting the most accurate information.

You will need access to the internet to show students the videos on the Genes to Cognition website, or allow them time to view them out of class.

Description and Teaching Materials

The complete activity, including teacher pages and student worksheets, is found on the Dolan DNA Learning Center's Genes to Cognition Online website: Ethical Decision Making - Neuroethics http://www.g2conline.org/1358. You will need access to the internet so that students can view the videos on the G2C website.

Teaching Notes and Tips

According to the Teacher Pages, this activity should take two 50-minute class periods. The Teacher Pages outlines exactly how to introduce and implement the activity with your class.


The Teacher Pages include an example rubric for assessing the position paper. Assessing additional student learning outcomes for this activity depends upon the instructor's goals. This lesson involves students participating in class discussions. Instructors can assess students' participation in the discussion. The College of Education at Purdue University has a Classroom Participation Rubric (http://www.edci.purdue.edu/phillion/edci205/welcome.html) online available for free. Instructors may also want to learn what students understand after a class discussion, you can have them complete a brief but powerful assessment right before the end of class. Go to Classroom Assessment Techniques to learn how to administer a Minute Paper: http://web.archive.org/web/20160928003934/http://www.flaguide.org/cat/minutepapers/minutepapers1.php.

For more information on assessment:
  • SERC's On The Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geosciences Faculty has a terrific suite of resources on assessment. Go to Observing and Assessing Student Learning to learn about the different types of assessment and techniques for finding out what your students are learning as you use new teaching approaches.

References and Resources

A list of resources is available at the end of the Teacher Pages in the "Ethical Decision Making - Neuroscience" lesson.