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Soc Sci Med. 2010 Aug;71(4):725-33. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.05.017. Epub 2010 Jun 4.

Contemporary neuroscience in the media.

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  • 1Neuroethics Research Unit, Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, 110 avenue des Pins Ouest, Montréal, Québec H2W 1R7, Canada.


Technological innovations in neuroscience have opened new windows to the understanding of brain function and the neuronal underpinnings of brain activity in neuropsychiatric disorders and social behavior. Public interest and support for neuroscience research through initiatives like the Decade of the Brain project and increasingly diverse brain-related initiatives have created new interfaces between neuroscience and society. Against this backdrop of dynamic innovation, we set out to examine how different features of neuroscience are depicted in print media. We used the 'guided news' function of the LexisNexis Academic database with keyword searches to find news articles published between 1995 and 2004 in major U.S. and U.K. English-language news sources. We performed searches on headlines, lead paragraphs, and body terms to maximize search yields. All articles were coded for overall tone of coverage, details on reported studies, presence of ethical, legal, and social discussion as well as the emerging interpretations of neuroscience - in the form of neuro-essentialism, neuro-realism, and neuro-policy. We found that print media coverage of the use of neurotechnology for diagnosis or therapy in neuropsychiatric disorders was generally optimistic. We also found that, even within articles that were identified as research reports, many did not provide details about research studies. We also gained additional insights into the previously identified phenomena of neuro-essentialism, neuro-realism, and neuro-policy showing some profound impacts of neuroscience on personal identity and policy-making. Our results highlight the implications of transfer of neuroscience knowledge to society given the substantial and authoritative weight ascribed to neuroscience knowledge in defining who we are. We also discuss the impact of these findings on neuroscience and on the respective contributions of the social sciences and the biological sciences in contemporary psychiatry and mental health policy.

(c) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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