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The practices of do-it-yourself brain stimulation: implications for ethical considerations and regulatory proposals


Scientists and neuroethicists have recently drawn attention to the ethical and regulatory issues surrounding the do-it-yourself (DIY) brain stimulation community, which comprises individuals stimulating their own brains with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for self-improvement. However, to date, existing regulatory proposals and ethical discussions have been put forth without engaging those involved in the DIY tDCS community or attempting to understand the nature of their practices. I argue that to better contend with the growing ethical and safety concerns surrounding DIY tDCS, we need to understand the practices of the community. This study presents the results of a preliminary inquiry into the DIY tDCS community, with a focus on knowledge that is formed, shared and appropriated within it. I show that when making or acquiring a device, DIYers (as some members call themselves) produce a body of knowledge that is completely separate from that of the scientific community, and share it via online forums, blogs, videos and personal communications. However, when applying tDCS, DIYers draw heavily on existing scientific knowledge, posting links to academic journal articles and scientific resources and adopting the standardised electrode placement system used by scientists. Some DIYers co-opt scientific knowledge and modify it by creating their own manuals and guides based on published papers. Finally, I explore how DIYers cope with the methodological limitations inherent in self-experimentation. I conclude by discussing how a deeper understanding of the practices of DIY tDCS has important regulatory and ethical implications.

  • Neuroethics
  • Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation
  • Sociology
  • Electrical Stimulation of the Brain
  • Regulation

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