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Babble on, pop neuroscience. The crowd is listening.


File:A small cup of coffee.JPG From The Register:

Neurobabble makes nonsense brain ‘science’ more believable

Neuroscientific explanations of human behaviour appeal to people because we’re suckers for simplified, mechanistic brain-centred explanations – even if they’re rubbish or don’t make sense.

A droll study by four psychologists tested psychological statements and placed them alongside “irrelevant” information from neuroimaging fMRI scans, to “ask whether such superfluous neuroscience information increases the perceived quality of psychological explanations and begin to explore the possible mechanisms underlying this effect”.

They also tested participants’ analytical skills. Some of the psychological insights were well founded, while some were rubbish. Did the inclusion of neuroimaging fMRI make the rubbish sound more authoritative?

Apparently so.

“Across four experiments, the presence of irrelevant neuroscience information made arguments more compelling,” they found.

Previous researchers (e.g. Weisberg 2008 and Hook and Farah 2013) showed that completely made-up neuroscientific research carried weight “when paired with either a brain picture or a bar chart”, and this study replicates it.

The “new science” of neuro-based insights looks a great deal shakier today than it did a few years ago, although there is a rearguard action to write neurobabble into the research curriculum. Which, a cynic might say, will keep the proponents in demand for a few years yet. More.

See also: Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away

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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose


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