Bioethics Blogs

The Predictive Power of Neuroimaging

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

Ethan Morris is an undergraduate senior at Emory University, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology with a minor in History. Ethan is a member of the Dilks Lab at Emory and is a legislator on the Emory University Student Government Association. Ethan is from Denver, Colorado and loves to ski.   

Background and Current Research
Neuroscience is a rapidly burgeoning field that is increasingly facing complex issues as scientists learn more about the human brain and by extension, about personal identity. One technology that has gained attention in the last two decades is brain imaging, a technique that uses various tools to evaluate the brain’s functional response to the world. Some of the more commonly used brain imaging devices are functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), both of which measure blood flow (albeit by different mechanisms) through the brain. These blood flow results show which areas of the brain are metabolically active, and are thus activated by the task at hand. Using these devices, researchers can determine the activity of certain brain regions associated with certain types of sensory and perceptual processing, as well as cognitive function.

While used in clinical settings for neurological and psychiatric diagnoses, neuroimaging is also applied in a variety of research contexts to learn about the neural correlates of human behavior. One study examined fMRI activation levels in the amygdala, one of the brain’s centers for processing salient stimuli and emotion.

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.