Susan Greenfield


principal investigator

Susan Greenfield
Professor, Pharmacology
Department of Pharmacology
University of Oxford

Susan Greenfield studied at St. Hilda’s College Oxford and took a D.Phil. in the University Department of Pharmacology, Oxford. She became Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford in 1996, and has since been awarded 30 Honorary Degrees from international universities. In 1998 she was appointed Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a post she holds jointly with her chair in Oxford, where she continues to head a multi-disciplinary research group exploring novel brain mechanisms linked to brain development and degeneration. She is also Director of the Institute for the Future of the Mind, Oxford. In 1995 she published her own theory of consciousness Journey to the Centres of the Mind (W H Freeman) and her novel approach was developed substantially in The Private Life of the Brain (Penguin 2000). In addition, Greenfield disseminates science to non-academic sectors. Her book The Human Brain: A Guided Tour (1997) ranked in the best-seller lists for both hard- and paperback, and is still in print as a popular introduction to the brain for non-specialists. Meanwhile her book, Tomorrow’s People: How 21st Century technology is changing the way we think and feel (2003), explores human nature, and its potential vulnerability in an age of technology.



Ian Devonshire
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Pharmacology
University of Oxford

What is the Neuroscientific Basis of Virtue in the 21st Century Mind?
Whilst virtue can be manifest in many forms, for example, generosity, compassion, restraint or wisdom, antithetical traits might now be characterising the culture of the 21st Century: selfishness, low empathy, poor self-control, and hedonism. We could also add a further reciprocal pair of behaviours: the virtue of being mindful of consequences versus the recklessness that President Obama recently identified as lying at the core of the current financial crisis. The aim of this project is to explore the brain mechanisms that could be critical in triggering behaviours such as recklessness, poor self-control and reduced empathy; most importantly, we plan to investigate at the level of the physical brain, the hypothesis that such ‘non-virtuous’ behaviours could be accentuated by the highly novel 21st Century environment of digital age technology. Only then can we ensure that such technologies are harnessed in a way that minimises any threat and maximises the potential for virtue. Between 1996 and 2005, 179 scholarly scientific papers were published investigating addiction to the internet and video games. Indeed, one particular study reports that a child between the age of 10-11 years old spends, on average, 900 hours in class, 1277 hours with their family, and 1934 hours in front of a screen (either television or computer). If the screen-based lifestyle of the 21st century is an unprecedented and pervasive phenomenon, then what effect might prolonged and frequent video gaming and Internet use have on the mental state of a species whose most basic talent is a highly sensitive adaptability to whatever environment in which it is placed? Susan Greenfield’s research group at the Institute for the Future of the Mind, University of Oxford, plan to address this question from complementary psychological as well as neuroscientific perspectives.

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