Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-jqctd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-28T12:33:19.577Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Critical Neuroscience: Linking Neuroscience and Society through Critical Practice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2009

Suparna Choudhury
Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 22 Boltzmannstrasse, Dahlem, D-14195, BerlinGermany E-mail:
Saskia Kathi Nagel
University of Osnabrück, Institute of Cognitive Science, Albrechtstrasse 28, D-49076 OsnabrückGermany E-mail:
Jan Slaby*
Philipps-University Marburg, Institute of Philosophy, Wilhelm-Röpke-Str 6b, D-35032 MarburgGermany E-mail:
*Corresponding author.
Get access


We outline the framework of the new project of Critical Neuroscience: a reflexive scientific practice that responds to the social, cultural and political challenges posed by the advances in the behavioural and brain sciences. Indeed, the new advances in neuroscience have given rise to growing projects of the sociology of neuroscience as well as neuroethics. In parallel, however, there is also a growing gulf between social studies of neuroscience and empirical neuroscience itself. This is where Critical Neuroscience finds its place. Here, we begin with a sketch of several forms of critique that can contribute to developing a model of critical scientific practice. We then describe a set of core activities that jointly make up the practice of Critical Neuroscience as it can be applied and practised both within and outside of neuroscience. We go on to propose three possible areas of application: (1) the problems related to new possibilities of neuropharmacological interventions; (2) the importance of culture, and the problems of reductionism, in psychiatry; (3) the use of imaging data from neuroscience in the law as alleged evidence about ‘human nature’.

Copyright © London School of Economics and Political Science 2009

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Alder, K. (2007). The lie detectors: The history of an American obsession. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Arai, A.C., & Kessler, M. (2007). Pharmacology of ampakine modulators: from AMPA receptors to synapses and behavior. Current Drug Targets, 8(5), 583602.Google Scholar
Bartels, A., & Zeki, S. (2000). The neural basis of romantic love. NeuroReport, 1(17), 38293834.Google Scholar
Bartels, A., & Zeki, S. (2004). The neural correlates of maternal and romantic love. NeuroImage, 21, 11551166.Google Scholar
Beaulieu, A. (2002). Images are not the (only) truth: Brain mapping, visual knowledge, and iconoclasm. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 27(1), 5386.Google Scholar
Bhugra, D., & Littlewood, R. (Eds) (2001). Colonialism and Psychiatry. New Delhi: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
Borck, C., & Hagner, M. (2001). Mindful practices: On the neurosciences in the twentieth century. Science in Context, 14(4), 615641.Google Scholar
Braun, L., Fausto-Sterling, A., Fullwiley, D., Hammonds, E.M., Nelson, A., Quivers, al. (2007). Racial categories in medical practice: how useful are they? PLoS Medicine, 4(9), e271.Google Scholar
Cacioppo, J.T., Berntson, G.G., Lorig, T.S., Norris, C.J, Rickett, E., & Nussbaum, H. (2003). Just because you’re imaging the brain doesn’t mean you can stop using your head: A primer and set of first principles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 650661.Google Scholar
Caldwell, J.A. Jr, Caldwell, J.L., Smythe, N.K., & Hall, K.K. (2000). A double-blind placebo-controlled investigation of the efficacy of modafinil for sustaining the alertness and performance of aviators: A helicopter simulator study. Psychopharmacology, 150, 272282.Google Scholar
Chiao, J.Y., Iidaka, T., Gordon, H.L., Nogawa, J., Bar, M., Aminoff, al. (2008). Cultural specificity in amygdala response to fear faces. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(12), 21672174.Google Scholar
Cohn, S. (2008). From mental illness to biological fact: patients’ responses to neuroscience promises. Paper presented at Critical Neuroscience workshop, McGill University, Montreal, 15–16 July.Google Scholar
Coltheart, M. (2006). What has functional neuroimaging told us about the mind (so far)? Cortex, 42, 323331.Google Scholar
Dalgleish, T. (2004). The emotional brain. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 5, 583589.Google Scholar
Damasio, A.R. (1999). The feeling of what happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace.Google Scholar
Daston, L. (2000). Biographies of scientific objects. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Daston, L., & Galison, P. (2007). Objectivity. Brooklyn, NY: Zone Books.Google Scholar
Davidson, R.J. (2001). Toward a biology of personality and emotion. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 935, 191207.Google Scholar
Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
Dumit, J. (2004). Picturing personhood: Brain scans and biomedical identity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.Google Scholar
Eagleman, D.M. (2008). Neuroscience and the law. Houston Lawyer, 16(6), 3640.Google Scholar
Eastman, N. & Campbell, C. (2006). Neuroscience and legal determination of criminal responsibility. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 7(4), 311318.Google Scholar
Elliott, C. (2003). Better than well: American medicine meets the American dream. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Fleck, L. (1981[1935]). Genesis and development of a scientific fact. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Foucault, M. (1973). Madness and civilization: A history of insanity in the age of reason. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
Frith, C.D. (2008). Social cognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363, 20332039.Google Scholar
Frith, U., & Frith, C.D. (2003). Development and neurophysiology of mentalizing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 358, 459473.Google Scholar
Fukuyama, F. (2002). Our posthuman future: Consequences of the biotechnology revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.Google Scholar
Geuss, R. (1981). The idea of a critical theory. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.Google Scholar
Gold, I., & Stoljar, D. (1999). A neuron doctrine in the philosophy of neuroscience. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 809830.Google Scholar
Greenslit, N. (2002). Pharmaceutical branding: Identity, individuality, and illness. Molecular Interventions, 2, 342345.Google Scholar
Goswami, U. (2006). Neuroscience and education: From research to practice? Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 7(5), 406411.Google Scholar
Hacking, I. (1992). The self-vindication of the laboratory. In Pickering, A. (Ed.), Science as practice and culture, 343–368. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Hacking, I. (1995). The looping effect of human kinds. In Sperber, D., Premack, D. and Premack, A. (Eds), Causal cognition: An multidisciplinary approach, 351–83. Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
Hacking, I. (2002). Historical ontology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.Google Scholar
Han, S., & Northoff, G. (2008). Culture-sensitive neural substrates of human cognition: A transcultural neuroimaging approach. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 9(8), 646654.Google Scholar
Harmer, C.J., Shelley, N.C., Cowen, P.J., & Goodwin, G. (2004). Increased positive versus negative affective perception and memory in healthy volunteers following selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibition. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 12561263.Google Scholar
Hartmann, M. (2009). Against first nature: Critical theory and neuroscience. Critical Neuroscience workshop, UCLA, Los Angeles, 28–29 January.Google Scholar
Healy, D. (2004). Let them eat Prozac: The unhealthy relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and depression. New York: New York UP.Google Scholar
Honneth, A. (1986). Kritik der Macht: Reflexionsstufen einer kritischen Gesellschaftstheorie. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp; English trans.: The critique of power: Reflexive stages in a critical social theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993.Google Scholar
Honneth, A. (2007). Pathologien der Vernunft. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
Horwitz, A.V., & Wakefield, J. (2007). The loss of sadness: How psychiatry transformed normal sorrow into depressive disorder. New York: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
Hunt-Grubbe, C. (2007). The elementary DNA of Dr Watson, Times Online, 14 October, URL (accessed March 2009): Scholar
Hyman, S. (2007). Can neuroscience be integrated into the DSM V? Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 8, 725732.Google Scholar
Illich, I. (1976). Medical nemesis. London: Calder & Boyars.Google Scholar
Illes, J. (Ed.). (2006). Neuroethics: Defining the issues in theory, practice and policy. Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
Illes, J., Kann, D., Karetsky, K., Letourneau, P., Raffin, T.A., Schraedley-Desmond, al. (2004). Advertising, patient decision making, and self-referral for computed tomographic and magnetic resonance imaging. Archives of Internal Medicine, 164, 24152419.Google Scholar
Ingvar, M., Ambros-Ingerson, J., Davis, M., Granger, R., Kessler, M., Rogers, al. (1997). Enhancement by an ampakine of memory encoding in humans. Experimental Neurology, 146, 553559.Google Scholar
Insel, T.R. & Quirion, R. (2005). Psychiatry as a clinical neuroscience discipline. Journal of the American Medical Association, 294, 22212224.Google Scholar
Joyce, K. (2008). Magnetic appeal: MRI and the myth of transparency. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP.Google Scholar
Kirmayer, L.J. (2006). Beyond the ‘new cross-cultural psychiatry’: Cultural biology, discursive psychology and the ironies of globalization. Transcultural Psychiatry, 43, 126144.Google Scholar
Kirsch, P., Esslinger, C., Chen, Q., Mier, D., Lis, S., Siddhanti, S., Gruppe, al. (2005). Oxytocin modulates neural circuitry for social cognition and fear in humans. Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 1148911493.Google Scholar
Kleinman, A. (1977). Depression, somatization, and the new cross-cultural psychiatry. Social Science & Medicine, 11, 310.Google Scholar
Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P.J., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr, E. (2005). Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435, 673676.Google Scholar
Kramer, P.D. (1993). Listening to Prozac: The landmark book about antidepressants and the remaking of the self. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
Krueger, F., Grafman, J., & McCabe, K. (2008). Neural correlates of economic game playing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363 (1511), 38593874.Google Scholar
Kulynych, J. (1997). Psychiatric neuroimaging evidence: A high-tech crystal ball? Stanford Law Review, 49, 12491270.Google Scholar
Lacasse, J.R., & Leo, J. (2005). Serotonin and depression: A disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature. PLoS Medicine, 2(12), 12111216.Google Scholar
Lamm, C., Batson, C.D., & Decety, J. (2007). The neural substrate of human empathy: Effects of perspective-taking and cognitive appraisal. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 4258.Google Scholar
Lane, C. (2007). Shyness: How normal behavior became a sickness. New Haven, CT: Yale UP.Google Scholar
Logothetis, N.K. (2008). What we can do and cannot do with fMRI. Nature, 453(7197), 869878.Google Scholar
Marcus, S.J. (Ed.) (2002). Neuroethics: Mapping the field. New York: Dana Press.Google Scholar
Martin, E. (2000). Mind–body problems. American Ethnologist, 27, 569590.Google Scholar
Mather, G. (2006). Foundations of perception. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
McCabe, S.E., Knight, J.R., Teter, C.J., & Wechsler, H. (2005). Non-medical use of prescription stimulants among US college students: Prevalence and correlates from a national survey. Addiction, 100, 96106.Google Scholar
McCulloch, J. (1995). Colonial psychiatry and ‘the African mind’. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.Google Scholar
McGoey, L. (2008). Prozac, RCTs and the profitability of uncertainty and failure. Invited talk at the ENSN-Department for History and Philosophy of Science workshop, ‘Our Brains, our Selves?’, Harvard University, 1–3 May.Google Scholar
Mintzes, B., Barer, M.L., Kravitz, R.L., Bassett, K., Lexchin, J., Kazanjian, al. (2003). How does direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) affect prescribing? A survey in primary care environments with and without legal DTCA. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 169, 405412.Google Scholar
Moll, J., De Oliveira-Souza, R., & Zahn, R. (2008). The neural basis of moral cognition: Sentiments, concepts, and values. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1124, 161180.Google Scholar
Moreno, J.D. (2007). Neuroscience and national security mind wars: Brain research and national defense. Washington, DC: Dana Press.Google Scholar
Moriarty, J.D. (2008). Flickering admissibility: neuroimaging evidence in the U.S. courts. Journal of Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 26, 2949.Google Scholar
Nagel, S.K. (2008). Ethics and the neurosciences: The ethical and social implications of monitoring and manipulating the brain. Doctoral thesis, University of Osnabrück.Google Scholar
Nature (2007). ‘Mind games: How not to mix politics and science’. Nature 450(457), 22 November, URL (accessed March 2009): Scholar
Ortega, F., & Vidal, F. (2007). Mapping the cerebral subject in contemporary culture. Reciis - Electronic Journal of Communication Information & Innovation in Health, 1, 255259.Google Scholar
Parens, E. (Ed.) (1998). Enhancing human traits: Ethical and social implications. Washington, DC: Georgetown UP.Google Scholar
Patel, N. (2003). Human rights and clinical psychology: Reinforcing inequalities or facilitating empowerment? International Journal of Human Rights, 7, 1639.Google Scholar
Parker, A., Derrington, A., & Blakemore, C. (2002). The physiology of cognitive processes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 357, 959961.Google Scholar
Pfaff, D.W. (2007). The neuroscience of fair play: Why we (usually) follow the golden rule. Foreword by Edward O. Wilson. Washington, DC: Distributed for Dana Press.Google Scholar
President's Council on Bioethics. (2003). Beyond therapy: Biotechnology and the pursuit of happiness. Washington, DC, URL (accessed September 2008): Scholar
Rapoport, J.L., & Inoff-Germain, G. (2002). Responses to methylphenidate in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and normal children: Update 2002. Journal of Attention Disorders, 6 Suppl. 1, S5760.Google Scholar
Rees, D., & Rose, S. (2004). New brain sciences: Perils and prospects. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.Google Scholar
Rose, N. (2006). The politics of life itself: Biomedicine, power, and subjectivity in the twenty-first century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.Google Scholar
Rosen, J. (2007). The brain on the stand. New York Times, 11 March.Google Scholar
Rosenthal, M.B., Berndt, E.R., Donohue, J.M., Frank, R.G., & Epstein, A.M. (2002). Promotion of prescription drugs to consumers. New England Journal of Medicine, 346, 498505.Google Scholar
Roskies, A. (2007). Are neuroimages like photographs of the brain? Philosophy of Science, 74, 860872.Google Scholar
Rouse, J. (1996). Engaging science: How to understand its practices philosophically. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP.Google Scholar
Rouse, J. (2002). How scientific practices matter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Seligman, R., & Kirmayer, L.J. (2008). Dissociative experience and cultural neuroscience: Narrative, metaphor and mechanism. Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry, 32, 3164.Google Scholar
Singh, I. (2005). Will the ‘real boy’ please behave: Dosing dilemmas for parents of boys with ADHD. American Journal of Bioethics, 5(3), 3447.Google Scholar
Singh, I. (2008). Beyond polemics: Science and ethics of ADHD. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 9, 957964.Google Scholar
Skolnick Weisberg, D., Keil, F.C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., & Gray, J. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 470477.Google Scholar
Solms, M., & Lechevalier, B. (2002). Neurosciences and psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 83, 233237.Google Scholar
Toga, A.W., Thompson, P.M., & Sowell, E.R. (2006). Mapping brain maturation. Trends in Neurosciences, 29, 148159.Google Scholar
Turner, D.C., Clark, L., Dowson, J., Robbins, T.W., & Sahakian, B.J. (2004). Modafinil improves cognition and response inhibition in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 55, 10311040.Google Scholar
Van Orden, G.C., & Paap, K.R. (1997). Functional neuroimages fail to discover pieces of mind in the parts of the brain. Philosophy of Science, 64, 8594.Google Scholar
Vidal, F. (2002). Brains, bodies, selves, and science: Anthropologies of identity and the resurrection of the body. Critical Inquiry, 28, 930947.Google Scholar
Vidal, F. (2009). Brainhood, anthropological figure of modernity. History of the Human Sciences, 22: 536.Google Scholar
Vohs, K.D., & Schooler, J.W. (2008). The value of believing in free will: Encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating. Psychological Science, 19, 4954.Google Scholar
Vul, E., Harris, C., Winkielman, P., & Pashler, H. (2009). Voodoo correlations in social neuroscience. Perspectives on Psychological Science.Google Scholar
Wezenberg, E., Verkes, R.J., Ruigt, G.S., Hulstijn, W., & Sabbe, B.G. (2006). Acute effects of the ampakine farampator on memory and information processing in healthy elderly volunteers. Neuropsychopharmacology, 32, 12721283,Google Scholar
Wall, J.T., Xu, J., & Wang, X. (2002). Human brain plasticity: An emerging view of the multiple substrates and mechanisms that cause cortical changes and related sensory dysfunctions after injuries of sensory inputs from the body. Brain Research Reviews, 39, 181215.Google Scholar
Wexler, B.E. (2006). Brain and culture: Neurobiology, ideology and social change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Wise, N.M. (2006). Thoughts on the politicization through commercialization of science. Social Research, 73, 12531272.Google Scholar
Wolf, S.M. (2008). Neurolaw: The big question. American Journal of Bioethics, 8, 2136.Google Scholar
Wolfe, J., Kluender, K., Levi, D., Bartoshuk, L., Herz, R., Klatzky, al. (2006). Sensation and perception. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.Google Scholar
Wolpe, P.R. (2002). Treatment, enhancement and the ethics of neurotherapeutics. Brain and Cognition, 50, 387395.Google Scholar
Yang, Y., & Raine, A. (2008). Brain abnormalities in antisocial individuals: Implications for the Law. Journal of Behavioral Science and the Law, 26, 6583.Google Scholar
Yesavage, J.A., Mumenthaler, M.S., Taylor, J.L., Friedman, L., O'Hara, R., Sheikh, al. (2002). Donepezil and flight simulator performance: Effects on retention of complex skills. Neurology, 59, 123125.Google Scholar
Young, A. (1995). The harmony of illusions: Inventing post-traumatic stress disorder. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP.Google Scholar
Zak, P.J., Stanton, A.A., & Ahmadi, S. (2007). Oxytocin increases generosity in humans. PLoS ONE, 2, e1128.Google Scholar
Zeki, S., & Romaya, J.P. (2008). Neural correlates of hate. PLoS ONE, 3, e3556.Google Scholar
Zhu, Y., Zhang, L., Fan, J., & Han, S. (2007). Neural basis of cultural influence on self-representation. Neuroimage, 43, 13101316.Google Scholar