Sparking controversy : the contested use of noninvasive brain stimulation
Author(s)Wexler, Anna (Anna M.)
Contested use of noninvasive brain stimulation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Susan S. Silbey.
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My dissertation examines the controversy over transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a noninvasive form of brain stimulation that is thought to provide a constant low level of electrical current to the brain. Although scientists have been experimenting with tDCS in both healthy and clinical populations for the last fifteen years, in late 2011 a movement arose wherein "lay" individuals began constructing their own tDCS devices, or purchasing consumer devices, to stimulate their brains outside of academic or medical settings for self-improvement purposes. Not surprisingly, the lay use of tDCS has not been well received by researchers, who have termed it "fringe" or "unorthodox." This work studies the conflict over tDCS: what is tDCS, who gets to use it, and who studies it? What are the multiple social worlds that tDCS inhabits, how is the technology interpreted and utilized in each, and how does each group authorize or discredit the other's use? My dissertation incorporates interviews, observations, an online survey, archival research, and legal analyses to probe aspects of the controversy from different angles. The first chapter introduces tDCS technology and chronicles the rise of the do-it-yourself movement and the subsequent emergence of direct-to-consumer devices. In the second chapter, I present an in-depth qualitative study of the practices of home users of tDCS; the third chapter offers a quantitative look at those who have purchased a consumer tDCS device, based on the results of an online survey. The fourth chapter addresses regulatory issues surrounding consumer tDCS devices, providing a comprehensive analysis of relevant legal doctrines and laws. The fifth chapter covers historical precedents for the home use of electrical stimulation, with a focus on uses of the medical battery between 1870 and 1920 in the United States. In the sixth chapter, I compare the medical battery to tDCS, arguing that the controversy over the home use of tDCS is not novel or even surprising, but rather the latest wave in a series of ongoing attempts by lay individuals to utilize electricity for therapeutic purposes.
Thesis: Ph. D. in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society (HASTS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Science, Technology and Society, 2017.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 298-323).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program in Science, Technology and Society.