A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Can neuroscience and moral education be united? (By Daniel Pallarés Domínguez)

Daniel Pallarés DomínguezPeople have started to talk about neuroeducation, but what is it? Is it just another example of the fashion of adding the prefix neuro- to the social sciences, like neuroethics, neuropolitics, neuromarketing and neurolaw?

Those who remain sceptical consider it a mistake to link neuroscience with education. However, for some authors, neuroscience can provide useful knowledge about the brain, and they see neuroeducation as a young field of study with many possibilities.

From its birth in the decade of the brain (1990), neuroeducation has been understood as an interdisciplinary field that studies developmental learning processes in the human brain. It is one of the last social neurosciences to be born. It has the progressive aim of improving learning-teaching methodologies by applying the results of neuroscientific research.

Neuroscientific research already plays an important role in education. Taking into account the neural bases of human learning, neuroeducation looks not only for theoretical knowledge but also for practical implications, such as new teaching methodologies, and it reviews classical assumptions about learning and studies disorders of learning. Neuroeducation studies offer possibilities such as early detection of special learning needs or even monitoring and comparing different teaching methodologies implemented in school.

Although neuroeducation primarily focuses on disorders of learning, especially in mathematics and language (dyscalculia and dyslexia), can it be extended to other areas? If neuroscience can shed light on the development of ethics in the brain, can such explorations form the basis of a new form of neuroeducation, moral neuroeducation, which studies the learning or development of ethics?

Before introducing a new term (moral neuroeducation), prudence and critical discussion are needed. First, what would the goal of moral neuroeducation be? Should it consider moral disorders in the brain or just immoral behaviours? Second, neuroscientific knowledge is used in neuroeducation to help design practices that allow more efficient teaching to better develop students’ intellectual potentials throughout their training process. Should this be the goal also of moral neuroeducation? Should we strive for greater efficiency in teaching ethics? If so, what is the ethical competence we should try to develop in students?

It seems that we still need a critical and philosophical approach to the promising union of neuroscience and moral education. In my postdoctoral project, Neuroethical Bases for Moral Neuroeducation, I will contribute to developing such an approach.

Daniel Pallarés Domínguez

My postdoctoral research at the Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics (CRB) is linked to a research project funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness in Spain. That project is entitled, Moral Neuroeducation for Applied Ethics [FFI2016-76753-C2-2-P], and is led by Domingo García-Marzá.

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  1. Carlos Monclús

    No entiendo por qué no pueden ir unidas. Lo que ocurre es que cada cultura entiende de distinta forma la moral, lo que nos conduce a buscar una ética universal.

    • Daniel Vicente Pallarés Domínguez

      Thank you for your comment. It is really inspiring to discuss about new fields in neuroethics. Unafortunately, I think you misunderstood my post.

      On the one hand, I have never said that neuroscience and education cannot work together. I said exactly the opposite: they can work together. However, before going ahead and trying to adapt the neuroscientific findings to the class, we need a more prudent and cautios approach.

      On the other hand, you are right. There are some ethical theories that try to find a universal approach. In fact, universality (as well as self-obligation and inconditionality) is one of the main characteristics of ethics for example according to deontologism. However, the reason why human beings tend to seek universal ethics is not a direct consequence of each culture having its moral norms, but rather that these moral norms can coexist in a society. The current moral pluralism leads us to look for new ways to combine what we believe fair (justice) with what makes us happy. A good example of this can be found in the “ethics of maximums and minimums” of Adela Cortina.

  2. impact953576664

    Fascinating stuff. I’ve read some work by Joshua Greene (who perhaps you already know) on the neural correlates of moral judgements e.g. deontological vs utilitarian ways of responding to classical moral dilemmas in philosophy. You are right to say that first and foremost though we need to have some form of philosophical framework in order to have some kind of moral neuroeducation.. unfortunately the answer for this latter question would be highly controversial regardless of the framework we choose to adopt in education as it appeals to the existence of a universal world ethics..

    In any case a great read.

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