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The Royal Society's Brain Waves project, charged with considering the future implications of neuroscience findings, is now in full swing, with the first two modules published.
The first, 'Society and Policy', is a collection of essays providing an introduction to current developments and pertinent issues for society and policy. 'It is not intended as an exhaustive review of the science, nor to make specific policy recommendations,' the project chair, professor Colin Blakemore of Oxford University, says in his introduction, 'Rather, it raises key issues and questions, many of which will be explored in more depth in subsequent modules.'
Two of the essays are by psychologists. BPS Fellow Trevor Robbins, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Cambridge University, has written on neuropsychopharmacology, including the latest findings in addiction and cognitive enhancing drugs; and Barbara Sahakian, a professor of clinical neuropsychology also at Cambridge, has written about the potential benefits of new findings across the discipline.
Other contributions to the first module include Geraint Rees on the scope and limits of neuroimaging; Irene Tracey on neural interfaces and brain interference; Wolf Singer on consciousness; Wolfram Schultz on decision making; Steven Rose on the risks of new psychology and neuroscience findings; Sarah Chan and John Harris on neuroethics; and Andy Stirling on the governance of neuroscience.
The second module of the Brain Waves project, chaired by BPS Fellow, professor Uta Frith of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, considers the implications of neuroscience and psychology for education, and takes the form of a highly readable overview of findings and recommendations. Feedback via the Royal Society is strongly welcomed.
The working group for the second module was dominated by psychologists, including: Dorothy Bishop at the University of Oxford; Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Brian Butterworth and Eleanor Maguire at UCL; Paul-Howard Jones at the Institute of Education; and Usha Goswami and Barbara Sahakian at Cambridge University.
Their report highlights many findings in neuroscience and psychology including: the biological basis of learning difficulties; how genetic influences interact with environmental factors to affect learning ability; the capacity of the brain to change and adapt through the life-time; the role of sensitive periods in learning ability, for example as found with learning second languages; the importance of expectations in the effects of reward, and the implications this has for motivation and learning; the potential for cognitive training programmes to improve self-control; and the concept of cognitive reserve - the way that learning and education can protect the brain from stress, illness and normal aging.
Another focus is on drugs and technologies that improve mental function. They've generated a lot of interest, but their long-term effects and risks are largely unknown. 'We propose that education is the most powerful and successful enhancer,' Frith and her colleagues write. 'Education provides...access to strategies for abstract thought, such as algebra or logic, which can be applied in solving a vast range of problems and can increase mental flexibility. Literacy and numeracy change the human brain, but also enable human beings to perform feats that would not be possible without these cultural tools, including the achievements of science.'
The report welcomes the support and interest that educational neuroscience currently enjoys, but it cautions that commercial companies are moving quickly to exploit this interest. 'There is already a glut of books, games, training courses, and nutritional supplements, all claiming to improve learning and to be backed by science,' Frith and her colleagues write. 'This is problematic because the sheer volume of information from a range of sources makes it difficult to identify what is independent, accurate and authoritative.'
The module two working group concludes with four key recommendations: for stronger links to be established between neuroscience and the educational system; for neuroscience to be incorporated into teacher training; for neuroscience to inform innovative learning technologies; and for the creation of a 'professionally managed web-based forum...to bring together practitioners and scientists in a continuing dialogue.'
See http://royalsociety.org/brainwaves for the reports, and for further information visit the website or contact email@example.com
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