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Neuroethics: Brain Privacy

Updated on April 2, 2017

In looking at psychological research, one area that is expanding at a rapid rate is neuroscience. The discoveries made in this field have the potential to impact lives in many different ways. As these discoveries are being made, they have opened up a whole new field of neuroethics. This field is concerned with determining what may or may not be ethical for neuroscientists to examine.

Read Farah’s (2005) discussion of neuroethics, Neuroethics: The Practical and the Philosophical. After reading the article, pick one issue in neuroethics (e.g., brain privacy, use of neuroscience in marketing, using cognitive enhancers) and examine how ethical the research in this area is based on what you have learned about ethics this week. Be sure to summarize some research that has been done in this area to illustrate whether or not it is ethical, and also mention future ethical considerations that should be taken into account for this area. Your summaries should also include a discussion of the research methods that are being used. Your ideas should be supported with the module resources.

After reading Farah’s (2005) article, I found the neuroscience and neuroethics issue of brain privacy intriguing. According to Martha Farah (2005), “neuroscience concerns the biological foundations of who we are, of our essence”; the brain allows neuroscientists to learn more about whom people are and this causes the ethical issues of brain privacy to be an important concern in research studies. The fact that a brain scan can be used to obtain personal information, determine psychological mind states and deception, denotes that a brain scan can provide a research study with a large amount of information which the participant might not want to share or published. This evolution of neuroscience has created a need for new guidelines with a concern for deception.

According to Research Methods in Psychology (2015), “deception can occur either through omission, the withholding of information, or commission, intentionally misinforming participants about an aspect of the research”. In the brain, imaging study-withholding information about what is being observed from a person’s brain, or misinforming them about the aspect of research, could be a breach of fidelity, responsibility, and integrity (American Psychological Association, n.d.). “The ENIGMA Consortium” (2014) article is written on the topic of large-scale collaborative analyses of neuroimaging data with a focus on ethical sharing. ENIGMA has strict restrictions on data use and data access; these restrictions include where data can and cannot be sent, along with how the data can be used. The data collected by ENIGMA is stripped of all personally identifying information before being released by the data collection center; ENIGMA does not require cohort data to be shared outside of the collection center. ENIGMA has these restrictions in place in order to treat all participants and the data gathered from them with complete ethical consideration in order to remain in compliance with ethical principles of psychologists and a code of conduct, as well as to encourage full participation from all of their participants.

When considering the ethics of brain privacy I believe that ENIGMA is a perfect example of ethical behavior. They remove all identifying information from brain scans before sharing the data outside of the collection center and they require permission from the participant before they will share the data with anyone outside of the collection center. As the research into the brain continues to progress it is important that more ethical guidelines are created to protect the human research participants involved in the studies. I believe that deception should not be allowed as a research method in brain studies unless the participants agree to be deceived. For instance, if the study is on the reaction to soft drinks, the participants could agree to deception based on what type of beverage they would be drinking. This would allow the researchers to determine if the brain is reacting to the taste of the drink or the name of the drink. However, I do not believe that researchers should be allowed to mislead the participants on the nature or purpose of the research study as that could allow them to collect personal information without informed consent.


American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct .Retrieved

Farah, M. (2005). Neuroethics: the practical and the philosophical, Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Cell Press, 9(4), 34–40. doi:

Shaughnessy, J., Zechmeister, E., & Zechmeister, J. (2015). Research methods in psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Thompson, P.M., Stein, J.L., Medland, S.E. et al. (2014). The ENIGMA Consortium: large-scale collaborative analyses of neuroimaging and genetic data. Brain Imaging and Behavior 8(2). 153–182. doi:10.1007/s11682-013-9269-5


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