Swiss Researchers Use Brain Electrodes to Stimulate Climate Concern

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Researchers at University of Bern have reported promising results after attaching electrodes to the scalps of test humans to stimulate climate concern.

Research on brain explores how to slow down climate change

ANI | Updated: Jan 08, 2022 22:14 IST 

Bern [Switzerland], January 8 (ANI): During a recent study by the University of Bern researchers used brain stimulation to demonstrate that the ability to sympathize with the future victims of climate change encourages sustainable behaviour.

“The fact that people aren’t acting in a more climate-friendly way isn’t because we know too little about this critical situation, though,” explained Daria Knoch, Professor for Social Neuroscience at the University of Bern.
To find out more about the reasons that prevent us from acting sustainably, Daria Knoch and her team have conducted a neuroscientific study.

“It is precisely our inability to mentalise with these strangers that discourages climate-friendly action,” said Daria Knoch, commenting on the findings of the new study that she carried out with her research group in the “Social Neuro Lab” at the University of Bern.

During the study, participants received stimulation to a part of their brain which plays an important role in taking the perspective of others. This stimulation led to more sustainable behaviour.

“Applying brain stimulation to the general public is out the question, of course,” explained Benedikt Langenbach, lead author of the study and a former PhD student at the Social Neuro Lab.

However, according to the researchers, the functioning brain area in question can also be enhanced, for example, through neurofeedback and meditation.

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The article in Cortex Magazine;

Brain study on how to slow down climate change

Date:December 15, 2021 Source:University of BernSummary:When it comes to climate-friendly behavior, there is often a gap between what we want and what we actually do. Although most people want to see climate change slowed down, many do not behave in an appropriately sustainable way. Researchers have now used brain stimulation to demonstrate that the ability to sympathize with the future victims of climate change encourages sustainable behavior.

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The abstract of the study;

Mentalizing with the future: Electrical stimulation of the right TPJ increases sustainable decision-making

Author links open overlay panelBenedikt P.LangenbachabBranislavSavicaThomasBaumgartneraAnnika M.WyssaDariaKnochaaUniversity of Bern, Institute of Psychology, Department of Social Neuroscience and Social Psychology, Bern, SwitzerlandbUniversity of Duisburg-Essen, LVR Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Essen, Germany

Received 23 April 2021, Revised 22 September 2021, Accepted 2 November 2021, Available online 23 November 2021.

Action editor Alan Sanfey; Reviewed 25 July 2021


While many people acknowledge the urgency to drastically change our consumption patterns to mitigate climate change, most people fail to live sustainably. We hypothesized that a lack of sustainability stems from insufficient intergenerational mentalizing (i.e., taking the perspective of people in the future). To causally test our hypothesis, we applied high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) to the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ). We tested participants twice (receiving stimulation at the TPJ or the vertex as control), while they engaged in a behavioral economic paradigm measuring sustainable decision-making, even if sustainability was costly. Indeed, excitatory anodal HD-tDCS increased sustainable decision-making, while inhibitory cathodal HD-tDCS had no effect. These finding cannot be explained by changes in participants’ fairness norms or their estimation of how other people would behave. Shedding light on the neural basis of sustainability, our results could inspire targeted interventions tackling the TPJ and give neuroscientific support to theories on how to construct public campaigns addressing sustainability issues.

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The scientists are not entirely correct in assuming direct brain stimulation could never be applied to the public. There is plenty of speculation about the possibility of reforming criminals by implanting electrodes in their brain to suppress undesirable behaviour traits.

As the researchers note, there are plenty of less overtly intrusive ways to stimulate the identified brain areas, such as drugs or even precisely tuned propaganda, tested against subjects wired up to a brain monitor.

Lots of people take Prozac, Xanax and other anti-depressants. It is easy to imagine a dystopian future in which standard medical treatments for depression or whatever are covertly spiced up with experimental drugs to stimulate climate concern or alter voting intentions.

In some ways this may already be happening. Scientific American wrote a glowing article in 2020 about how the magic mushroom hallucinogen Psilocybin turns Conservatives into Liberals.

Blue states seem to be leading the way decriminalising the use of magic mushrooms.

Personally I’m skeptical about whether the claimed effect of Psilocybin on voter intentions is real, and I’m not in any way claiming the magic mushroom decriminalisation movement is a plot to change election outcomes. But if the effect on voter intentions turns out to be genuine, it will be fascinating to see how authorities in different jurisdictions respond to that information.

In an age when governments feel empowered to bully ordinary people about their personal health choices, dystopian medical population control nightmares which might once have seemed unthinkable no longer seem so impossibly unlikely.

via Watts Up With That?

January 9, 2022 at 12:50AM

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