The recent explosion of neuroscience techniques has proved to be game changing in terms of understanding the healthy brain, and in the development of neuropsychiatric treatments. One of the key techniques available to us is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which allows us to examine the human brain non-invasively, and observe brain activity in real time. Through fMRI, we are beginning to build a deeper understanding of our thoughts, motivations, and behaviours. Recent reports that some patients who have all indications of being in a persistent vegetative state show conscious awareness, and were able to communicate with researchers, demonstrate perhaps the most remarkable and dramatic use of fMRI. But this is just the most striking of a number of areas in which fMRI is being used to ‘read minds’, albeit in a very limited way.
As neuroscientists unravel the regions of the brain involved in reward and motivation, and in romantic love, we are likely to develop the capacity to influence responses such as love using drugs. fMRI studies have also been used to indicate that many people who would not regard themselves as racist show a racial bias in their emotional responses to faces of another racial group. Meanwhile, the reliability of fMRI as a lie detector in murder cases is being debated – what if the individual simply believes, falsely, that he or she committed a murder?
Sex, Lies, and fMRI takes readers beyond the media headlines. Barbara Sahakian and Julia Gottwald consider what the technique of fMRI entails, and what information it can give us, showing which applications are possible today, and which ones are science fiction. They also consider the important ethical questions these techniques raise. Should individuals applying for jobs as teachers or judges be screened for unconscious racial bias? What if the manipulation of love using ‘love potions’ was misused for economic or military ends? How far will we allow neuroscience to go? It is time to make up our minds.