The Dual Application of Neurofeedback Technique and the Blurred Lines Between the Mental, the Social, and the Moral
Recent neuroscience studies have reported that neurofeedback training with the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging enables the regulation of an individual’s cognitive, emotion-related, and behavioral states through a real-time representation of her brain activities. Since this technique has been applied not only to clinical research to, for example, mitigate mental or psychiatric symptoms but also to non-clinical research to, for example, change the cognition or preferences of a so-called healthy participant, neurofeedback-based cognitive and/or moral enhancements may be realized in the future. However, neurofeedback-based human enhancement is not the only issue that requires neuroethical consideration. I examine why and to what extent the dual application of neurofeedback technique will blur the lines between the mental, the social, and the moral, threatening some social norms, such as individual freedom and diversity. First, I consider the link between the mental and the social in psychiatry. Examining the definition of “mental disorder” provided by the American Psychiatric Association, I show that the mental is partly defined through social performance. Second, I make explicit the link between the social and the moral and argue that moral evaluation of an activity is gently but positively correlated with its social evaluation. Third, I demonstrate the links between the mental, the social, and the moral. In spite of a great deal of effort to distinguish these notions, the possibility of the dual application of this technique blurs the lines between them. Fourth, I examine whether such blurred lines signal sociocultural evolution or dystopia and argue that it can be understood as a beginning of the second advent of ethical virtue. I conclude that further cautious consideration of neuroethics is required because the establishment of this technique may have unique influences on our society.
KeywordsEnhancement Mental disorder Moral education Neuroethics Virtue ethics
This paper is supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Overseas Research Fellowships and the JSPS KAKENHI (Grant Number 17K13318).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The author declares that there are no conflicts of interest.
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