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NEUROSCIENCE

Medium

Is it ethical or legal to dose detainees with oxytocin, the naturally occurring “love chemical,” to enhance interrogation? What about giving soldiers drugs intended to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder? Should external electrical stimulation be used to help warfighters learn their jobs more quickly? And what if it turns out that certain genes that design brain circuits can lead to an increased propensity for political violence?   Science Progress Editor-In-Chief Jonathan Moreno discussed these and other questions addressed in his updated book, Mind Wars: Brain Science and the Military in the 21st Century at the Center for American Progress on May 8. The discussion was moderated by PJ Crowley, a former State Department official who now leads an effort at Penn State University and the U.S. Army War College to enhance the civilian-military dialogue.   The two discussed the past, present, and future of brain research in the military and counterintelligence —a field Moreno has dubbed neurosecurity. Central to the discussion was a review of efforts to achieve not only therapeutic results, but even making warfighters “better than well,” and emerging ethical questions around new discoveries in genetics, remote warfare, and brain-machine interfaces could affect soldier selection and readiness, interrogation tactics, and the size and scope of the battlefield.   Enhanced interrogation   National security agencies began experimenting with psychoactive chemicals, such as LSD, in the 1950s to ascertain their effectiveness as a “truth serum” or to cause disarray among enemy combatants. As technology has advanced, so too have the ethical questions raised.   Today research on oxytocin—a brain chemical involved in forming trusting, emotional bonds and feelings of love and affection—raises questions about its use in artificially boosting trust in targets of interrogation. Though oxytocin is a naturally occurring chemical in the body, would its use against suspected terrorists during interrogation violate human rights law?   “Better than well”   Militaries have experimented with ways to enhance soldiers’ cognitive function for more than 100 years, noted Moreno. Sustained alertness was one of the first objectives of such research, and the Prussian army experimented with cocaine as far back as the late 1800s. Caffeine and nicotine were used for this purpose during the World Wars, and in Vietnam methamphedamine (speed) became the stimulant of choice for many.   In the 1980s a new drug, modafinil, entered the scene. Approved for the treatment of narcolepsy, the drug has been shown to extend alertness for as long as…

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