Studying emotions in neuroscientific meditation research. Ethics and epistemology entangled?

Activity: Talk or presentation / Performance / SpeechesTalk or presentation - at conferenceAcademic


During the last two decades, the study of meditation has become an increasingly popular niche of research in the neurosciences. Conceptualized as a cognitive training or emotional regulation, neuroscientists study meditation as a tool to enhance concentration, a means to reduce risks of multiple diseases, an addition to psychotherapy, or a lifestyle that fosters well- being. These effects of meditation are currently investigated in the Silver Santé Study, a European project on the impacts of meditation on aging and well-being of elderly participants.

To study the impacts of meditation on emotional well-being, a brain scanning task is supposed to measure how meditation alters participants’ emotional responses to videos with content of suffering. The task is based on the assumption that the videos immediately evoke participants’ emotions which are captured on brain images. Yet, some participants complain about the video selection either because they do not know how to feel or because they feel appalled while watching videos that equate suffering with experiences of handicapped individuals or people from developing countries.

To what extent does the task produce or reinforce politically charged stereotypes and biases? What are the scientific and ethical implications of these biases? How are epistemology and ethics entangled? What are the responsibility, possibilities and means of a laboratory ethnographer to intervene when a research task has ethically problematic effects? Based on the presentation of results from interviews and participant observation in the Silver Santé Study, I invite the panel audience to reflect upon and discuss these questions.
Period18 Jun 2019
Event titleBias in AI and Neuroscience: Transdisciplinary Conference
Event typeConference
LocationNijmegen, NetherlandsShow on map