Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Using Brain Stimulation to Enhance Learning in Children

By Peter Leistikow

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris in Summer 2016.

Peter Leistikow is an undergraduate student at Emory University studying Neuroscience and Sociology. When he is not doing research in pharmacology, Peter works as a volunteer Advanced EMT in the student-run Emory Emergency Medical Service. 
Ever since the advent of electricity, people have tried to harness this power for therapeutic purposes. Nineteenth century posters touted the benefits of “self-applicable curatives for nervous, functional, chronic, and organic diseases” in the form of electric belts and harnesses (Browne 2014). Although these items are historical curiosities today, scientists are still trying to harness the potential benefits of electricity, especially in the treatment of psychiatric and learning disorders.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) is a non-invasive experimental procedure that utilizes direct currents applied to two electrodes on the head with the goal of stimulating specific brain areas (John Hopkins Medicine 2016). Although there is evidence that this technology, and it’s closely related variant transcranial random-noise stimulation (TRNS), can increase attention and aid in treating cognitive impairments and depression, TDCS has caught the interest of companies and hobbyists assembling these devices for cognitive enhancement (Hogenboom 2014). This has worried some researchers, who have called for regulations regarding the sale and use of this technology which they fear can have detrimental effects if used incorrectly (Wexler 2015).

Meanwhile, researchers have continued to investigate TDCS, and the media has taken notice.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.