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Nature Reviews Neuroscience volume 10, pages 815821 (2009) | Download Citation



Neuroscience addresses questions that, if resolved, will reveal aspects of our individuality. Therefore neuroscientific knowledge is not solely constrained within laboratories, but readily captures the attention of the public at large. Ideas, concepts and images in neuroscience widely circulate in culture and are portrayed in literature, film, works of art, the mass media and commercial products, therefore shaping social values and consumer practices. The interaction between art and science offers an opportunity to make the scientific community and the public aware of the social and ethical implications of the scientific advances in neuroscience.

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We thank J. Abi-Rached, F. Gillette and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this manuscript.

Author information


  1. Giovanni Frazzetto is at the BIOS Centre, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK.

    • Giovanni Frazzetto
  2. Suzanne Anker is at the Fine Arts Department, School of Visual Arts, 209 E. 23rd Street, New York 10010, USA.

    • Suzanne Anker


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Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary information S1 (box)

    Historical background of 'brainhood'

  2. 2.

    Supplementary information S2 (figure)

    Artistic representation of neuronal circuitry.



The condition of being rather than having a brain. Denoting a brain-based type of personhood regards the brain as the only organ in our body that we need in order to be ourselves (see also Supplementary information S1 (box) and Further information). It defines human beings as 'cerebral subjects'.

Cerebral subject

A term used to equate human beings with their brains.

Cultural imaginary

Term defined by the cultural historian Graham Dawson as a set of 'discursive themes, images, motifs and narrative forms that are publicly available within a given culture at any one time, and articulate its psychic and social dimensions'5.


The study of art (in its conception, execution and appreciation) and aesthetic experience in neuroscientific terms16.

Neurochemical self

Refers to how, in light of increasing biological knowledge of behaviour, we are recruited to a way of living in which our life is understood in chemical terms. Rather than implying essentialism or determinism, being a neurochemical self implies freedom and responsibility to alter our states of mind and choosing among a large selection of means to optimise our capacities and performance36.


Broadly refers to the incorporation of neuroscience knowledge into our life, culture and intellectual discourses. Several new terms with a 'neuro-' prefix have been used to designate the set of transformations taking place in society in light of advances in neuroscience (for example, neurosociety). In 2006, we used the term neuroculture to denote how neuroscience has specifically penetrated into popular culture and artistic expression1.


Combines the fields of neuroscience, psychology and economics for the study of how people evaluate gains, losses and rewards in economic decision-making. It adopts economic models and brain imaging techniques to identify the brain areas that become active when making a decision. It is to be distinguished from 'neuromarketing' that specifically adopts imaging tools to investigate customer choices for marketing purposes (for example, the study of brain responses to TV commercials).


Aims at developing novel teaching and learning methods combining pedagogy and findings in neurobiology and cognitive sciences. It involves the efforts of scientists and teachers and it stresses the importance of early-age brain modifications for the development of learning capacities and adult behaviour.


Investigates neural phenomena underlying the subjective experience of spiritual phenomena and religious behaviour, such as prayer or ecstatic trance. It also uses brain-imaging tools and is based on the assumption of the universality and consistency of spiritual experiences across cultures and religions.


Is the condition of being an individual person. It includes essential human properties such as consciousness, the ability to reason and self-awareness.

Rorschach test

Is a psychological test that examines personality characteristics and emotional states on the basis of the patients' perception of ambiguous images.

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