Ethical implications of transcranial magnetic stimulation for personal identity

William P. Cheshire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Through an electric coil positioned over the head, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) penetrates the protective enclosure of the skull as no mechanical intrusion can to stimulate, inhibit, or modulate neuronal activity in the underlying cerebral cortex. Proposed medical and nonmedical applications of this developing technology have the potential to influence cognitive capacities relevant to personal identity and its perception, both of oneself and of others. The power to use targeted pulses of electricity to alter, intentionally or unintentionally, the subtle flow of one's private thoughts in regard to perceptions, preferences, emotions, biases, memories, or judgments challenges notions of personal authenticity and raises crucial questions about how to decide on appropriate use of a technology that may impinge on human nature. Its prospective beneficial medical indications are promising and should be pursued and investigated under rigorous scientific conditions. Its potential for medical or social harm if used carelessly, recreationally, or without restraint is cause for concern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-81
Number of pages11
JournalEthics and Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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