Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Brain stimulation for ‘enhancement’ in children: An ethical analysis

By Hannah Maslen, Brian D Earp, Roi Cohen-Kadosh and Julian Savulescu
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Revised on November 6, 2014


Davis (2014) called for "extreme caution" in the use of non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) to treat neurological disorders in children, due to gaps in scientific knowledge. We are sympathetic to his position. However, we must also address the ethical implications of applying this technology to minors. Compensatory trade-offs associated with NIBS present a challenge to its use in children, insofar as these trade-offs have the effect of limiting the child's future options. The distinction between treatment and enhancement has some normative force here. As the intervention moves away from being a treatment toward being an enhancement—and thus toward a more uncertain weighing of the benefits, risks, and costs—considerations of the child’s best interests (as judged by the parents) diminish, and the need to protect the child's (future) autonomy looms larger. NIBS for enhancement involving trade-offs should therefore be delayed, if possible, until the child reaches a state of maturity and can make an informed, personal decision. NIBS for treatment, by contrast, is permissible insofar as it can be shown to be at least as safe and effective as currently approved treatments, which are (themselves) justified on a best interests standard.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Are The Real Effects Of Cyberbullying?

Originally published on Oct 31, 2014

Cyberbullying is a serious issue, and the effects it can have on a person can last a lifetime. Join Trace as he discusses the extent of the negative effects.

The three-minute segment is video worth watching.  It includes issues related to kids as well as adults.

Is parenthood morally respectable?

By Thomas Rodham Wells
The Philosopher's Beard
Originally published November 5, 2014

Parents' private choices to procreate impose public costs without public accountability. Society is presented with expensive obligations to ensure every child a decent quality of life and their development into successful adults and citizens, and that means massive tax-subsidies for their health, education, parental income, and so forth. In addition, children have a demographic impact on public goods like the environment which creates additional costs for society and perhaps humanity as a whole.

So, is parenthood an irresponsible and selfish lifestyle choice?

The entire article is here.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Therapist and Patient Share a Theater of Hurt

By Corey Kilgannon
The New York Times
Originally published November 5, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Dr. Dintino said that her behavioral approach to Ms. Powell’s condition allows for a more personal relationship with the patient than conventional psychotherapy, and for looser guidelines when it comes to patient-therapist relations.

Ms. Powell was willing to bare all as a patient, and both women felt the risks were outweighed by the potential therapeutic value, as well as the attention that the show could bring to the disorder.

As for the notion that the decision constitutes a breach of ethics, Dr. Landy said, “With certain forms of mental illness that do not respond to conventional treatment, we need a more radical approach, which therapeutic theater can provide.”

The entire article is here.

Ms. Maynard was right, Assisted Suicide Should be Legal Everywhere

By Mark Bernstein
Impact Ethics
Originally posted November 10, 2014

Brittany Maynard was in the prime her life when she was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most malignant and deadly form of brain cancer. The best available treatment consists of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (a pill, not intravenous) along with steroids to decrease brain swelling. Sometimes experimental treatments are undertaken. In spite of all this the vast majority of patients are dead within two years. Often patients suffer the side effects of the treatment, like hair loss, lethargy, depressed immunity causing infections, and facial bloating and weight gain from the prolonged use of steroids. Eventually they lose brain function like the ability to speak or move an arm or walk and ultimately they lose cognitive function. As a senior neurosurgeon who has dedicated his life to the care of patients with Ms. Maynard’s type of tumor and has treated thousands of such patients, I can attest to the poor quality of life many patients with glioblastoma endure.

The entire story is here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

How Your Brain Decides Without You

In a world full of ambiguity, we see what we want to see.

By Tom Vanderbilt
Originally published on November 6, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

The structure of the brain, she notes, is such that there are many more intrinsic connections between neurons than there are connections that bring sensory information from the world. From that incomplete picture, she says, the brain is “filling in the details, making sense out of ambiguous sensory input.” The brain, she says, is an “inference generating organ.” She describes an increasingly well-supported working hypothesis called predictive coding, according to which perceptions are driven by your own brain and corrected by input from the world. There would otherwise simple be too much sensory input to take in. “It’s not efficient,” she says. “The brain has to find other ways to work.” So it constantly predicts. When “the sensory information that comes in does not match your prediction,” she says, “you either change your prediction—or you change the sensory information that you receive.”

Harvard Researchers Used Secret Cameras to Study Attendance. Was That Unethical?

By Rebecca Koenig and Steve Kolowich
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Originally published November 6, 2014

A high-tech effort to study classroom attendance at Harvard University that used secret photo surveillance is raising questions about research ethics among the institution’s faculty members. The controversy heated up on Tuesday night, when a computer-science professor, Harry R. Lewis, questioned the study at a faculty meeting.

During the study, which took place in the spring of 2013, cameras in 10 Harvard classrooms recorded one image per minute, and the photographs were scanned to determine which seats were filled.

To some professors, it was an obvious intrusion into their privacy—and their students’.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart

Book reviewed by John J. Drummond, Fordham University

Anthony J. Steinbock, Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart, Northwestern University Press, 2014, 339pp., $34.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780810129566.

Here is an excerpt:

In this context, the other emotions of self-givenness -- shame and guilt -- function both as self-critique and as challenges to pride. Shame and guilt are diremptive experiences that clearly reveal the interpersonality of one's personhood. In shame "I am not only given as exposed before another, but as receiving myself from another" (76). Shame self-critically apprehends a loss of self-value, but, more importantly, shame reorients the self toward its positive value insofar as it motivates one to modify one's self-understanding of who one is. This self-revelation is what enables shame to serve as a critique of the prideful self, and its futurity points to a Myself as what I ought to be and can be. Shame thereby annuls pride and orients us toward an interpersonal (even if only myself and Myself) normativity. Guilt similarly involves a diremption, but guilt focuses not on what I am but what I did. I stand before you accused by you and responsible to you for what I have done and will do.

The entire book review is here.

Ethical Responsibilities of Direct-to-Consumer Neuroscience Companies

By Mary Darby
Published on November 5, 2014

As part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, President Obama asked the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) to “identify proactively a set of core ethical standards – both to guide neuroscience research and to address some of the ethical dilemmas that may be raised by the application of neuroscience research findings.”

This morning, the Bioethics Commission resumed its consideration of ethical issues related to direct-to-consumer (DTC) neuroscience, including products like dietary supplements, neurofeedback devices, and even memory games.

The entire blog post is here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Handling of Sexual Harassment Case Poses Larger Questions at Yale

By Tamar Lewin
The New York Times
Originally posted November 1, 2014

A sexual harassment case that has been unfolding without public notice for nearly five years within the Yale School of Medicine has roiled the institution and led to new allegations that the university is insensitive to instances of harassment against women.

The case involves a former head of cardiology who professed his love to a young Italian researcher at the school and sought to intervene in her relationship with a fellow cardiologist under his supervision.

A university committee recommended that he be permanently removed from his position, but the provost reduced that penalty to an 18-month suspension.

The entire article is here.

Fabricating and plagiarising: when researchers lie

By Mark Israel
The Conversation
Originally published November 5, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Systematic research into the causes of scientific misconduct is scarce. However, occasionally committees of investigation and research organisations have offered some comment. Some see the researcher as a “bad apple”. A researcher’s own ambition, vanity, desire for recognition and fame, and the prospect for personal gain may lead to behaviour that crosses the limits of what is admissible. Others point to the culture that may prevail in certain disciplines or research groups (“bad barrel”).

Again others identify the creation of a research environment overwhelmed by corrupting pressures (“bad barrel maker”). Many academics are under increasing pressure to publish – and to do so in English irrespective of their competence in that language – as their nation or institution seeks to establish or defend its placing in international research rankings.

The entire article is here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Psychologist paying $550,000 settlement in toddler’s death

By Tom Jackman
The Washington Post
Originally published November 8, 2014

The mother of a 15-month-old boy who died while on a visit to his father in Manassas in 2012 will be paid a $550,000 wrongful death settlement from the psychologist who testified that it was safe to leave the boy with his father, Joaquin Rams.

The settlement was entered in Fairfax Circuit Court on Oct. 17, the same day that Prince William County prosecutors, who are seeking to prove that Rams killed his son, revealed that Virginia’s chief medical examiner had changed the official ruling on the cause of death from drowning to “undetermined.”

The entire article is here.

More action sought to stop suicide in Canada

Suicide’s death toll exceeds homicide, and car accidents combined: the equivalent of ‘20 jumbo jets just disappearing.’

By Olivia Carville
The Star
Originally published on November 3, 2014

Every year, more Canadians kill themselves than die by car accidents, HIV, homicide, drowning, influenza and war combined.

In Ontario alone, the suicide rate doubles the road toll most years, figures obtained from the Office of the Chief Coroner show.

Despite this, preventive awareness campaigns and funding for suicide pales in comparison to all other public safety issues, experts told the Star.

The entire story is here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Philosophical Implications of the Urge to Urinate

The state of our body affects how we think the world works

by Daniel Yudkin
Scientific American
Originally published November 4, 2014

If one thing’s for sure, it’s that I decided what breakfast cereal to eat this morning. I opened the cupboard, I perused the options, and when I ultimately chose the Honey Bunches of Oats over the Kashi Good Friends, it came from a place of considered judgment, free from external constraints and predetermined laws.

Or did it? This question—about how much people are in charge of their own actions—is among the most central to the human condition. Do we have free will? Are we in control of our destiny? Do we choose the proverbial Honey Bunches of Oats? Or does the cereal—or some other mysterious force in the vast and unknowable universe—choose us?

The entire article is here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The dangerous shortcomings of empathy

By Joe Gelonesi
The Philosopher's Zone
Originally published November 3, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Bookshops swell with empathy self-help publications. Go online, and you’ll find the five types of empathy, and the seven healthy habits of empathetic people.

Experiments are conducted on rats, peer-reviewed papers are published on mirror neurons, and authors stride the talk-circuit promoting the wonders of walking in someone else’s shoes.

Let’s not forget that Obama famously compared the dangers of an empathy deficit to the big hole in the federal budget.

It feels right and proper that this sentiment be afforded the space to grow. What’s not to like? In contrast to sympathy, which can be categorised as a distanced, third-person emotional response to others, empathy calls for a deep imaginative commitment which draws one into the emotional space of the other.

The entire article is here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Physician-Assisted Death

Religion and Ethics Weekly
Originally posted October 31, 2014

Cathy Lynn Grossman, senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, talks with R&E host Bob Abernethy about the case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who was given six months to live after being diagnosed with advanced brain cancer. She made headlines when she pledged to end her life with the help of a doctor rather than continuing to endure her debilitating symptoms.

Several other videos on the topic can be found here.

Mentoring new scientists in the space between how things are and how things ought to be.

By Janet D. Stemwedel
Scientific American Blog
Originally published October 31, 2014

Scientists mentoring trainees often work very hard to help their trainees grasp what they need to know not only to build new knowledge, but also to succeed in the context of a career landscape where score is kept and scarce resources are distributed on the basis of scorekeeping. Many focus their protégés’ attention on the project of understanding the current landscape, noticing where score is being kept, working the system to their best advantage.

But is teaching protégés how to succeed as a scientist in the current structural social arrangements enough?

It might be enough if you’re committed to the idea that the system as it is right now is perfectly optimized for scientific knowledge-building, and for scientific knowledge-builders (and if you view all the science PhDs who can’t find permanent jobs in the research careers they’d like to have as acceptable losses). But I’d suggest that mentors can do better by their protégés.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Teaching Moral Values

Panellists: Michael Portillo, Anne McElvoy, Claire Fox and Giles Fraser

Witnesses: Adrian Bishop, Dr. Sandra Cooke, Professor Jesse Prinz and Dr. Ralph Levinson

Teaching your children a set of moral values to live their lives by is arguably one of the most important aspects of being a parent - and for some, one of the most neglected. In Japan that job could soon be handed to teachers and become part of the school curriculum. The Central Council for Education is making preparations to introduce moral education as an official school subject, on a par with traditional subjects like Japanese, mathematics and science. In a report the council says that since moral education plays an important role not only in helping children realise a better life for themselves but also in ensuring sustainable development of the Japanese state and society, so it should to taught more formally and the subject codified. The prospect of the state defining a set of approved values to be taught raises some obvious questions, but is it very far away from what we already accept? School websites often talk of their "moral ethos". The much quoted aphorism "give me the child until he is seven and I'll give you the man" is attributed to the Jesuits and why are church schools so popular if it's not for their faith based ethos? Moral philosophy is an enormously diverse subject, but why not use it to give children a broad set of tools and questions to ask, to help them make sense of a complex and contradictory world? If we try and make classrooms morally neutral zones are we just encouraging moral relativism? Our society is becoming increasingly secular and finding it hard to define a set of common values. As another disputed epigram puts it "When men stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything."

Could moral education fill the moral vacuum?

Moral Maze - Presented by Michael Buerk

The audio file can be accessed here.

Terminally ill 'death with dignity' advocate dies

By Steven Dubois and Terrence Petty
The Associated Press
Originally published November 2, 2014

A terminally ill woman who renewed a nationwide debate about physician-assisted suicide has ended her young life with the lethal drugs available under Oregon's Death With Dignity Law. Brittany Maynard was 29.

Maynard, who had brain cancer, died peacefully in her bedroom Saturday "in the arms of her loved ones," said Sean Crowley, a spokesman for the advocacy group Compassion & Choices.

Weeks ago, Maynard had said she might use the lethal drugs Nov. 1, just a couple weeks short of her 30th birthday. Last week, she said she might delay the day. But she went ahead with her original plan.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ambivalence in the Cognitive Enhancement Debate

By Neil Levy
The Neuroethics Blog
Originally posted October 14, 2014

The most hotly debated topic in neuroethics surely concerns the ethics of cognitive enhancement. Is it permissible, or advisable, for human beings already functioning within the normal range to further enhance their capacities? Some people see in the prospect of enhancing ourselves the exciting prospect of becoming more than human; others see it as threatening our humanity so that we become something less than we were.

In an insightful article, Erik Parens (2005) has argued that truthfully we are all on both sides of this debate. We are at once attracted and repulsed by the prospect that we might become something more than we already are. Parens thinks both frameworks are deeply rooted in Western culture and history; perhaps they are universal themes. We are deeply attached to a gratitude framework and to a more Promeathean framework. Hence we find ourselves torn with regard to self-transformation.

The entire blog post is here.

Using Pseudoscience to Shine Light on Good Science

Published on Jul 16, 2014

If instructors want students to think like scientists, they have to teach them about decidedly nonscientific ways of thinking, argues Scott O. Lilienfeld, Emory University, in his APS--David Myers Lecture for the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychology at the 2014 APS Annual Convention.

How to Recognize Pseudoscience

One key to teaching about pseudoscience, said Lilienfeld, is being able to recognize it. While there isn’t a strict dividing line between so-called “good” and “bad” science, there are some warning signs that pseudoscientific findings tend to share, including:

  • extraordinary claims that aren't backed by evidence;
  • overreliance on testimonial or anecdotal experiences;
  • undue reliance on authority figures;
  • emphasis on confirmation rather than falsification;
  • use of imprecise terminology;
  • entrenched claims that don’t accommodate new evidence;
  • an evasion of the peer-review process; and
  • overuse of ad hoc explanations for negative findings

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anxious, Threatened, and Also Unethical: How Anxiety Makes Individuals Feel Threatened and Commit Unethical Acts

By Kouchaki, Maryam; Desai, Sreedhari D.
Journal of Applied Psychology, Sep 22 , 2014


People often experience anxiety in the workplace. Across 6 studies, we show that anxiety, both induced and measured, can lead to self-interested unethical behavior. In Studies 1 and 2, we find that compared with individuals in a neutral state, anxious individuals are more willing (a) to participate in unethical actions in hypothetical scenarios and (b) to engage in more cheating to make money in situations that require truthful self-reports. In Studies 3 and 4, we explore the psychological mechanism underlying unethical behaviors when experiencing anxiety. We suggest and find that anxiety increases threat perception, which, in turn, results in self-interested unethical behaviors. Study 5 shows that, relative to participants in the neutral condition, anxious individuals find their own unethical actions to be less problematic than similar actions of others. In Study 6, data from subordinate–supervisor dyads demonstrate that experienced anxiety at work is positively related with experienced threat and unethical behavior. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.


The findings in this article tell us something new and fundamental about people's behavior when they are under the influence of experienced anxiety. Our findings demonstrate that compared with people in a neutral state, those who experience anxiety tend to behave unethically when the situation permits. This unethical behavior is mediated by perceived threat.

The article is here.

Who Accepts Responsibility for Their Transgressions?

By Karina Schumann and Carol S. Dweck
Pers Soc Psychol Bull 0146167214552789,
first published on September 24, 2014
doi: 10.1177/0146167214552789


After committing an offense, transgressors can optimize their chances of reconciling with the victim by accepting responsibility. However, transgressors may be motivated to avoid admitting fault because it can feel threatening to accept blame for harmful behavior. Who, then, is likely to accept responsibility for a transgression? We examined how implicit theories of personality-whether people see personality as malleable (incremental theory) or fixed (entity theory)-influence transgressors' likelihood of accepting responsibility. We argue that incremental theorists may feel less threatened by accepting responsibility because they are more likely to view the situation as an opportunity for them to grow as a person and develop their relationship with the victim. We found support for our predictions across four studies using a combination of real-world and hypothetical offenses, and correlational and experimental methods. These studies therefore identify an important individual difference factor that can lead to more effective responses from transgressors.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Suicide surpassed war as the military's leading cause of death

By Gregg Zoroya
USA Today
Originally published October 31, 2014

War was the leading cause of death in the military nearly every year between 2004 and 2011 until suicides became the top means of dying for troops in 2012 and 2013, according to a bar chart published this week in a monthly Pentagon medical statistical analysis journal.

The entire article is here.

Is Social Psychology Biased Against Republicans?

By Maria Konnikova
The New Yorker
Originally published October 30, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Social psychology, Haidt went on, had an obvious problem: a lack of political diversity that was every bit as dangerous as a lack of, say, racial or religious or gender diversity. It discouraged conservative students from joining the field, and it discouraged conservative members from pursuing certain lines of argument. It also introduced bias into research questions, methodology, and, ultimately, publications. The topics that social psychologists chose to study and how they chose to study them, he argued, suffered from homogeneity. The effect was limited, Haidt was quick to point out, to areas that concerned political ideology and politicized notions, like race, gender, stereotyping, and power and inequality. “It’s not like the whole field is undercut, but when it comes to research on controversial topics, the effect is most pronounced,” he later told me. (Haidt has now put his remarks in more formal terms, complete with data, in a paper forthcoming this winter in Behavioral and Brain Sciences.)

The entire article is here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Contemporary Death: Death with Dignity and Autonomy

By Peggy Battin
Originally published October 29, 2014

Philosopher and bioethicist Peggy Battin tells us the moving story of how and why her husband chose to die.  She addresses death, end of life issues, and individual choices in the process.  She shares her emotional reactions to the process.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Scientific faith: Belief in science increases in the face of stress and existential anxiety

Miguel Fariasa, Anna-Kaisa Newheiserb, Guy Kahanec, and Zoe de Toledo
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 49, Issue 6, November 2013, Pages 1210–1213


Growing evidence indicates that religious belief helps individuals to cope with stress and anxiety. But is this effect specific to supernatural beliefs, or is it a more general function of belief — including belief in science? We developed a measure of belief in science and conducted two experiments in which we manipulated stress and existential anxiety. In Experiment 1, we assessed rowers about to compete (high-stress condition) and rowers at a training session (low-stress condition). As predicted, rowers in the high-stress group reported greater belief in science. In Experiment 2, participants primed with mortality (vs. participants in a control condition) reported greater belief in science. In both experiments, belief in science was negatively correlated with religiosity. Thus, some secular individuals may use science as a form of “faith” that helps them to deal with stressful and anxiety-provoking situations.


The suggested parallels between religious belief and belief in science may seem to be in tension with recent work emphasizing the intuitive character of religious belief. Tasks involving more analytic processing were shown to decrease religious belief (Gervais & Norenzayan, 2012), whereas the stimulation of a more intuitive mindset led to a greater belief in God (Shenhav, Rand, & Greene, 2012). Contrary to religion, scientific practice is defined by analytical thinking; rational enquiry and weighing of evidence are given precedence even when they conflict with intuition. But when it comes to believing, even if it is a belief in the scientific method as opposed to divine revelation, the underlying mechanism may be similar.

The entire article is here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Empathy: A motivated account

Jamil Zaki
Department of Psychology, Stanford University
IN PRESS at Psychological Bulletin


Empathy features a tension between automaticity and context dependency. On the one hand, people often take on each other’s states reflexively and outside of awareness. On the other hand, empathy exhibits deep context dependence, shifting with characteristics of empathizers and situations. These two characteristics of empathy can be reconciled by acknowledging the key role of motivation in driving people to avoid or approach engagement with others’ emotions. In particular, at least three motives—suffering, material costs, and interference with competition—drive people to avoid empathy, and at least three motives—positive affect, affiliation, and social desirability—drive them to approach empathy. Would-be empathizers carry out these motives through regulatory strategies including situation selection, attentional modulation, and appraisal, which alter the course of empathic episodes. Interdisciplinary evidence highlights the motivated nature of empathy, and a motivated model holds wide-ranging implications for basic theory, models of psychiatric illness, and intervention efforts to maximize empathy.

The entire article is here.

Compensation and punishment: ‘Justice’ depends on whether or not we’re a victim

New York University
Press Release
Originally released on October 28, 2014

We’re more likely to punish wrongdoing as a third party to a non-violent offense than when we’re victimized by it, according to a new study by New York University psychology researchers. The findings, which appear in the journal Nature Communications, may offer insights into how juries differ from plaintiffs in seeking to restore justice.

Their study, conducted in the laboratory of NYU Professor Elizabeth Phelps, also shows that victims, rather than seeking to punish an offender, instead seek to restore what they’ve lost.

“In our legal system, individuals are presented with the option to punish the transgressor or not, but such a narrow choice set may fail to capture alternative preferences for restoring justice,” observes Oriel FeldmanHall, the study’s lead author and a post-doctoral fellow in NYU’s Department of Psychology. “In this study we show that victims actually prefer other forms of justice restoration, such as compensation to the victim, rather than punishment of the transgressor.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The drunk utilitarian: Blood alcohol concentration predicts utilitarian responses in moral dilemmas

Aaron A. Duke and Laurent Bègueb
Volume 134, January 2015, Pages 121–127


• Greene’s dual-process theory of moral reasoning needs revision.
• Blood alcohol concentration is positively correlated with utilitarianism.
• Self-reported disinhibition is positively correlated with utilitarianism.
• Decreased empathy predicts utilitarianism better than increased deliberation.


The hypothetical moral dilemma known as the trolley problem has become a methodological cornerstone in the psychological study of moral reasoning and yet, there remains considerable debate as to the meaning of utilitarian responding in these scenarios. It is unclear whether utilitarian responding results primarily from increased deliberative reasoning capacity or from decreased aversion to harming others. In order to clarify this question, we conducted two field studies to examine the effects of alcohol intoxication on utilitarian responding. Alcohol holds promise in clarifying the above debate because it impairs both social cognition (i.e., empathy) and higher-order executive functioning. Hence, the direction of the association between alcohol and utilitarian vs. non-utilitarian responding should inform the relative importance of both deliberative and social processing systems in influencing utilitarian preference. In two field studies with a combined sample of 103 men and women recruited at two bars in Grenoble, France, participants were presented with a moral dilemma assessing their willingness to sacrifice one life to save five others. Participants’ blood alcohol concentrations were found to positively correlate with utilitarian preferences (r = .31, p < .001) suggesting a stronger role for impaired social cognition than intact deliberative reasoning in predicting utilitarian responses in the trolley dilemma. Implications for Greene’s dual-process model of moral reasoning are discussed.

Equitable Access to Care — How the United States Ranks Internationally

Karen Davis, Ph.D., and Jeromie Ballreich, M.H.S.
N Engl J Med 2014; 371:1567-1570
October 23, 2014
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1406707

Here are two excerpts:

According to a 2013 Commonwealth Fund survey of adults in 11 high-income countries, the United States ranks last on measures of financial access to care as well as of availability of care on nights and weekends. Uninsured people in the United States are particularly likely to report encountering barriers to care.


The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland stand out as leaders in ensuring equitable financial access to care. Switzerland, which provides coverage through nonprofit private insurance plans with deductibles, ensures that cost sharing is lower for lower-income individuals. The United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden have public health care systems for the entire population with little or no patient cost sharing and allow a limited role for private insurance. France has a public insurance system, and Germany has a social insurance system with competing private “sickness funds.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Ethicist Who Crossed the Line

By Brad Wolverton
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Originally published October 24, 2014

She was everywhere, and seemingly everyone’s friend, a compassionate do-gooder who worked long hours with underprepared students while balancing several jobs, including directing a center on ethics.

On Wednesday the world learned something else about Jeanette M. Boxill: Her own ethics were malleable.

Most of the blame fell on Julius E. Nyang’oro, a former department chair at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his longtime assistant, Deborah Crowder, after they were identified as the chief architects of a widespread academic scandal there.

The entire story is here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Human-subjects research: The ethics squad

By Elie Golgin
Originally published October 21, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Ethical dilemmas in research are nothing new; what is new is that scientists can go to formal ethics consultancies such as Silber's to get advice. Unlike the standard way that scientists receive ethical guidance, through institutional review boards (IRBs), these services offer non-binding counsel. And because they do not form part of the regulatory process, they can weigh in on a wider range of issues — from mundane matters of informed consent and study protocol to controversial topics such as the use of experimental Ebola treatments — and offer more creative solutions.

The consulting services are “a really new area”, says Joshua Crites, a research ethicist at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine in Hershey. “Even some of the most basic questions get complicated really quickly, and it's better to have a group of ethicists working together to sort this out.”

The entire article is here.

Researchers retract bogus, Dr. Oz-touted study on green coffee bean weight-loss pills

By Abby Phillip
The Washington Post
Originally published October 22, 2014

Researchers have retracted a bogus study that was used by a company to validate weight-loss claims for green coffee bean pills, one of several questionable supplements being scrutinized by federal regulators.

The study, which was conducted in India but written by researchers from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, initially claimed that people who used the supplement lost 16 percent of their body fat (about about 18 pounds each) with or without diet and exercise.

The entire story is here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

U.S Troops and Patients Were Used as Malaria Guinea Pigs

By Bill Briggs
NBC News

Tens of thousands of mental patients and troops unknowingly became malaria test subjects during the 1940s — part of a secret federal rush to cure a dread disease and win a world war, according to a book published Tuesday that exposes vast, previously unknown breaches of medical ethics.

“The Malaria Project” — operating via the same covert White House machinery that drove the Manhattan Project — tasked doctors with removing malaria from naturally exposed U.S. troops then injecting those strains into people with syphilis and schizophrenia, reports author Karen Masterson, who researched files at the National Archives.

Some details of the project have been previously reported, but the book's new revelations renew debate over the ethics of using unsuspecting people as test subjects — similar to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study on low-income black men.

The entire story is here.

More Insurers Put Spending Limits On Medical Treatments

By Michelle Andrews
Originally published October 21, 2014

To clamp down on health care costs, a growing number of employers and insurers are putting limits on how much they'll pay for certain medical services such as knee replacements, lab tests and complex imaging.

A recent study found that savings from such moves may be modest, however, and some analysts question whether "reference pricing," as it's called, is good for consumers.

The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), which administers the health insurance benefits for 1.4 million state workers, retirees and their families, has one of the more established reference pricing systems.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why it matters whether you believe in free will

By Rebecca Roache
Practical Ethics Blog
Originally published May 23, 2013

Scientific discoveries about how our behaviour is causally influenced often prompt the question of whether we have free will (for a general discussion, see here). This month, for example, the psychologist and criminologist Adrian Raine has been promoting his new book, The Anatomy of Violence, in which he argues that there are neuroscientific explanations of the behaviour of violent criminals. He argues that these explanations might be taken into account during sentencing, since they show that such criminals cannot control their violent behaviour to the same extent that (relatively) non-violent people can, and therefore that these criminals have reduced moral responsibility for their crimes. Our criminal justice system, along with our conceptions of praise and blame, and moral responsibility more generally, all presuppose that we have free will. If science can reveal it to be an illusion, some of the most fundamental features of our society are undermined.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why Doctors need Stories

By Peter D. Kramer
The New York Times
Originally published October 18, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

I have long felt isolated in this position, embracing stories, which is why I warm to the possibility that the vignette is making a comeback. This summer, Oxford University Press began publishing a journal devoted to case reports. And this month, in an unusual move, the New England Journal of Medicine, the field’s bellwether, opened an issue with a case history involving a troubled mother, daughter and grandson. The contributors write: “Data are important, of course, but numbers sometimes imply an order to what is happening that can be misleading. Stories are better at capturing a different type of ‘big picture.’ ”

Stories capture small pictures, too. I’m thinking of the anxious older man given Zoloft. That narrative has power.

The entire article is here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

‘Science is our best answer, but it takes a philosophical argument to prove that’

By Andrew Anthony
The Guardian
Originally published October 18, 2014

For some time now the discipline of philosophy has been under something of an assault from the world of science. Four years ago Stephen Hawking announced that philosophy was “dead”. He was referring specifically to the philosophy of science, which he said was still bogged down in epistemological questions from which science had moved on.

But philosophy in general has increasingly been viewed as irrelevant by many scientists. It’s a perspective that may be best summed up by the cosmologist Lawrence M Krauss, who has said: “science progresses and philosophy doesn’t”.

What’s more, science has begun to progress into areas previously occupied by philosophy and the humanities at large. These incursions have not gone unchallenged.

The entire article is here.

Why isn't everyone an evolutionary psychologist?

By Darren Burke
Front. Psychol., 27 August 2014
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00910

Despite a widespread acceptance that the brain that underpins human psychology is the result of biological evolution, very few psychologists in any way incorporate an evolutionary perspective in their research or practice. There have been many attempts to convince mainstream psychology of the importance of such a perspective, mostly from those who identify with “Evolutionary Psychology,” and there has certainly been progress in that direction, but the core of psychology remains essentially unevolutionary. Here I explore a number of potential reasons for mainstream psychology continuing to ignore or resist an evolutionary approach, and suggest some ways in which those of us interested in seeing an increase in the proportion of psychologists adopting an evolutionary perspective might need to modify our tactics to increase our chances of success.

If we assume that very few highly educated people don't believe in biological evolution (which is a fairly safe assumption), then it follows that the vast majority of scientifically oriented psychologists, and psychology researchers believe that the neural mechanisms that underpin our psychological abilities and propensities are the product of evolution—of natural, kin, and sexual selection. It is puzzling, therefore, that there is not a more widespread acceptance of the importance of an evolutionarily informed approach in our science.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

By Konika Banerjee and Paul Bloom
The New York Times Sunday Review
Originally posted on October 17, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

This tendency to see meaning in life events seems to reflect a more general aspect of human nature: our powerful drive to reason in psychological terms, to make sense of events and situations by appealing to goals, desires and intentions. This drive serves us well when we think about the actions of other people, who actually possess these psychological states, because it helps us figure out why people behave as they do and to respond appropriately. But it can lead us into error when we overextend it, causing us to infer psychological states even when none exist. This fosters the illusion that the world itself is full of purpose and design.

The entire article is here.

Impressions of Misconduct: Graduate Students’ Perception of Faculty Ethical Violations in Scientist-Practitioner Clinical Psychology Programs.

January, Alicia M.; Meyerson, David A.; Reddy, L. Felice; Docherty, Anna R.; Klonoff, Elizabeth A.
Training and Education in Professional Psychology, Aug 25 , 2014


Ethical conduct is a foundational element of professional competence, yet very little is known about how graduate student trainees perceive ethical violations committed by clinical faculty. Thus, the current study attempted to explore how perceived faculty ethical violations might affect graduate students and the training environment. Of the 374 graduate students in scientist-practitioner clinical psychology programs surveyed, nearly a third (n = 121, 32.4%) reported knowledge of unethical faculty behavior. Students perceived a wide range of faculty behaviors as unethical. Perception of unethical faculty behavior was associated with decreased confidence in department faculty and lower perceived program climate. Implications of these findings are discussed and recommendations offered.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Podcast Episode 17: Existential Angst, Ethics and Your Professional Will

Are you a psychologist working independently?  If so, do you have a professional will?  If not, you need to listen to this podcast.  John welcomes Drs. Mary O’Leary Wiley and Cathy Spayd to outline the important points in constructing a professional will.  A professional will is part of your ethical obligation to your patients should you die suddenly or become incapacitated.  The podcast will address the pragmatics of constructing a professional will and why it is important for all psychologists to have a professional will.

At the end of the workshop the participants will be able to:

1. Explain the importance of a professional will.
2. Locate documents on the Internet to help create a professional will.
3. Create your professional will.

Click here to earn one APA-approved CE credit

Find this podcast on iTunes

Or listen directly below

**Some Corrective Feeback

- Some states require a public notification for practice closure, whatever the reason.
- Some psychologist's estates have been sued for failing to manage records properly after the death of a psychologist.


Mary O'Leary Wiley, PhD ABPP web site

Catherine Spayd, PhD

Closing a Professional Practice: Clinical, Ethical and Practical Considerations for Psychologists Throughout the Lifespan PowerPoint presentation by Drs. Wiley and Spayd

APA Sample of a Professional Will

Ragusea, S. (2002). A professional living will for psychologists and other mental health professionals.  In L. VandeCreek & T. Jackson (Eds.), Innovations in clinical practice:  A source book (Vol. 20, pp. 301 – 305). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.

Spayd, C.S. and Wiley, M.O. (2009). Closing a Professional Practice:  Clinical and Practical Considerations.  Pennsylvania Psychologist, 69 (11), 15-17.

Dashlane.com - A secure site to store passwords

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Doctors Tell All—and It’s Bad

By Meghan O'Rourke
The Atlantic
Originally published October 14, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

But this essay isn’t about how I was right and my doctors were wrong. It’s about why it has become so difficult for so many doctors and patients to communicate with each other. Ours is a technologically proficient but emotionally deficient and inconsistent medical system that is best at treating acute, not chronic, problems: for every instance of expert treatment, skilled surgery, or innovative problem-solving, there are countless cases of substandard care, overlooked diagnoses, bureaucratic bungling, and even outright antagonism between doctor and patient. For a system that invokes “patient-centered care” as a mantra, modern medicine is startlingly inattentive—at times actively indifferent—to patients’ needs.

To my surprise, I’ve now learned that patients aren’t alone in feeling that doctors are failing them. Behind the scenes, many doctors feel the same way. And now some of them are telling their side of the story. A recent crop of books offers a fascinating and disturbing ethnography of the opaque land of medicine, told by participant-observers wearing lab coats. What’s going on is more dysfunctional than I imagined in my worst moments. Although we’re all aware of pervasive health-care problems and the coming shortage of general practitioners, few of us have a clear idea of how truly disillusioned many doctors are with a system that has shifted profoundly over the past four decades. These inside accounts should be compulsory reading for doctors, patients, and legislators alike. They reveal a crisis rooted not just in rising costs but in the very meaning and structure of care. Even the most frustrated patient will come away with respect for how difficult doctors’ work is. She may also emerge, as I did, pledging (in vain) that she will never again go to a doctor or a hospital.

The entire article is here.

The Last Right: Why America Is Moving Slowly on Assisted Suicide

By Ross Douthat
The New York Times Sunday Review
Originally posted on October 11, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

The tragedy here is almost deep enough to drown the political debate. But that debate’s continued existence is still a striking fact. Why, in a society where individualism seems to be carrying the day, is the right that Maynard intends to exercise still confined to just a handful of states? Why has assisted suicide’s advance been slow, when on other social issues the landscape has shifted dramatically in a libertarian direction?

Twenty years ago, a much more rapid advance seemed likely. Some sort of right to suicide seemed like a potential extension of “the right to define one’s own concept of existence” that the Supreme Court had invoked while upholding a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. Polls in the 1990s consistently showed more support — majority support, depending on the framing — for physician-assisted suicide than for what then seemed like the eccentric cause of same-sex marriage.

The entire article is here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Liar's 'Tell': Is Paul Ekman stretching the truth?

By Christopher Shea
The Chronicle
Originally published October 10, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

But Ekman’s lie-detection work has recently taken some hard blows. He has long had academic critics (unmentioned in Blink) who say he has not proved that his behavior-based lie-detection techniques actually work. In November 2013, the Government Accountability Office took things up a notch by recommending that Congress cut the funding of the TSA program. The watchdog agency argued that neither scholarship in general nor specific analyses of SPOT offered any proof that malign intent could be divined by looking at body language or facial cues.

Plenty of academics share this negative view of SPOT. "I really don’t think the current program at TSA is doing anything to protect us," says Charles R. Honts, a professor of psychology at Boise State University, who has consulted with the Department of Defense on behavioral observation.

The entire article is here.

The Value of Vengeance and the Demand for Deterrence.

Molly J. Crockett, Yagiz Özdemir, and Ernst Fehr
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Online First Publication, October 6, 2014


Humans will incur costs to punish others who violate social norms. Theories of justice highlight 2 motives for punishment: a forward-looking deterrence of future norm violations and a backward-looking retributive desire to harm. Previous studies of costly punishment have not isolated how much people are willing to pay for retribution alone, because typically punishment both inflicts damage (satisfying the retributive motive) and communicates a norm violation (satisfying the deterrence motive). Here, we isolated retributive motives by examining how much people will invest in punishment when the punished individual will never learn about the punishment. Such “hidden” punishment cannot deter future norm violations but was nevertheless frequently used by both 2nd-party victims and 3rd-party observers of norm violations, indicating that retributive motives drive punishment decisions independently from deterrence goals. While self-reports of deterrence motives correlated with deterrence-related punishment behavior, self-reports of retributive motives did not correlate with retributive punishment behavior. Our findings reveal a preference for pure retribution that can lead to punishment without any social benefits.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Do research ethics need updating for the digital age?

By Michael W. Ross, PhD, MD, MPH
The Monitor on Psychology
October 2014, Vol 45, No. 9
Print version: page 64

Over a week in early January 2012, the news feeds of more than 600,000 Facebook users changed subtly: Without users' knowledge, researchers manipulated the feeds' emotional content to examine how Facebook friends' emotions affected one another.

The study on "massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks" (PNAS, June 17, 2014) generated significant debate in both public and scientific spheres. Much of this debate centered on ethical aspects of the study. In an editorial, even the journal's editor-in-chief voiced concern that the "collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining fully informed consent and allowing participants to opt out" (Verma, 2014).

There has been extensive and incisive debate about the ethical and scientific issues arising from the study.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Are We Really Conscious?

By Michael Graziano
The New York Times Sunday Review
Originally published October 10, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

The brain builds models (or complex bundles of information) about items in the world, and those models are often not accurate. From that realization, a new perspective on consciousness has emerged in the work of philosophers like Patricia S. Churchland and Daniel C. Dennett. Here’s my way of putting it:

How does the brain go beyond processing information to become subjectively aware of information? The answer is: It doesn’t. The brain has arrived at a conclusion that is not correct. When we introspect and seem to find that ghostly thing — awareness, consciousness, the way green looks or pain feels — our cognitive machinery is accessing internal models and those models are providing information that is wrong. The machinery is computing an elaborate story about a magical-seeming property. And there is no way for the brain to determine through introspection that the story is wrong, because introspection always accesses the same incorrect information.

The entire article is here.