Thanks to new imaging techniques, we are able to understand more and more about how the brain works. However, responsible neuroimaging innovation requires a dialogue between science and society.
The researchers organised this dialogue in the fields of healthcare, education, and justice and security. They found a high level of variation in the challenges in each area. The dialogue outcomes highlight the importance of taking a timely, pro-active approach, of ensuring cooperation between the humanities, social sciences and natural and technological sciences, and of involving all stakeholders.
New neuroscience technologies (neuroimaging) make it possible to map our brains in increasing detail and – temporarily – affect the way our brains work. Possible future applications are found not just in healthcare, but can include:
- improving memory for better academic achievement;
- increasing the effectiveness of advertising and information campaigns;
- assessing the suitability of an applicant for a job;
- questioning suspects using brain scans.
At the same time, there are several barriers to the successful and socially-responsible implementation of neuroimaging. These barriers are of a practical, social and ethical nature. Neuroimaging can raise questions in the following areas:
- ethics (right to privacy, equality, risk of stigmatisation);
- security/public health;
- changing norms and values.
Areas of application
The researchers made use of an interactive learning and action dialogue between the various stakeholders in their study into neuroimaging. In these dialogues, the researchers formulated proposals for the design of socially-responsible neurotechnology together with relevant stakeholders from civil society. They also considered the production process and how to introduce a particular technology onto the market. There were found to be substantial differences in challenges between the different areas. The main findings were:
Interaction between stakeholders raises awareness and results in new ideas and contacts. To continue to develop responsible innovations in the long term, attention must be given to systemic barriers in the healthcare sector that slow down development. A shared vision of the future of the healthcare system is also required.
Neuroimaging innovation leads mainly to evidence‐based and personalised learning, although the stakeholders had different opinions regarding norms and values. Further dialogue with all stakeholders is therefore necessary. (film (in Dutch) with a presentation of these results)
- Justice & security
The neuroimaging debate in this field is young and fragmented, so that there are as yet no general, shared visions to direct socially-responsible innovation. In this phase, it is important to create ‘adaptive spaces’ in innovation projects in which researchers and professionals working in the humanities, social sciences and natural and technological sciences can together explore the possibilities. (film (in Dutch) with a presentation of these results)
The project also showed that it is helpful to bring together stakeholders with different perspectives and backgrounds. This results in an awareness of other perspectives and actors, an understanding of potential barriers, reframing of the problem, and new ideas, contacts and networks. Lessons from this project include:
- it is important to be able to reflect on the responsibilities of various stakeholders;
- during the process, stakeholders should be aware of mechanisms that result in undesirable early closure of the dialogue;
- different sharing techniques and methods may be required in different domains.