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Brain scans indicate ... this blog is informative

Wednesday, March 05, 2008 - 12:09 PM

Brain scans give us a whole new way of explaining how and why we do the things we do. But while brain scans can help scientists understand how the person inside the scanner thinks, they also make those of us outside the scanner a little bit less savvy.

Deena Weisberg, a postdoc at Yale, recently published a study in The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience showing that people swallow poor explanations more readily when the claim is preceded by “Brains scans indicate …” and sprinkled with neuroscience words like “frontal lobe circuitry.” When we read those words—us non-experts, at least—our normal critical thinking instincts get pushed aside. And the neuroscience information doesn’t even need to be relevant to have this effect. According to the study,

“Adding irrelevant neuroscience information thus somehow impairs people’s baseline ability to make judgments about explanations.”

So be on the lookout. The news these days is flooded with studies that scan people’s brain while they spend money, or tell lies, or think about loved ones. And it's hard not to feel like we can actually “see” people thinking. But it's important to keep in mind that these studies often have small sample sizes and are easily misinterpreted.

So we here at Radiolab promise to keep our crap-detectors working full time when we look for explanations about human behavior. But in the meantime, maybe scientists could put someone in a brain scanner while they are reading the words “brain scans indicate …”

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Comments [5]

Mark Jordan

I have picked up a reflex statement to keep my ability to think operational. Beware the "cognitive paparazzi". Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley originated the term which serves me so well.

Mar. 11 2008 08:33 AM
Julie

Another problem with the bandied about phrase "brain scans" is just how vague that can be. There are so many ways to "see" the brain, from PET scans to CT, to the now popular fMRI. Even the Zeus of fMRI has problems however, as most cognitive neuroscientists don't know how to properly use the machine and the readouts. Instead of being theory-driven, it's become sadly commonplace to set participants in an fMRI, give them a task, and then base research on the results, with no theory in place.
Hopefully with the (albeit incredibly expensive) MEG on the horizon we can get better temporal AND spatial resolution, and stop seeing such sloppy science.

Great article!

Mar. 08 2008 02:00 PM
Hollis

Great piece!

Mar. 06 2008 01:42 PM
Paul Hart

In regard to lying this morning heard on WAMU Washington. Watching other people and in my own internal processing, in my case at least, I believe lying is learned, and that this learning is dependent on brain acuity. In my case, I am a "project person" I always am planning something or working on multiple issues. My mind is very active, planning, considering alternatives, trying to solve problems. Early in my life, I learned that lying was very dangerous, because I could not remember what I had said, and therefore could not defend the lie. Over time, telling lies and then not remembering them, or not being able to recall the nuances of detail necessary to defend them teaches some nasty and embarrassing lessons. You can decide for yourself the reason, and I would rather face an issue immediately and dispose of it if I can. That makes life much simpler. Anyway, my belief is that if you have the capacity to remember the lies you tell and can defend them, you are much more likely to lie than if you get "caught" with ensuing circumstances worse than simply being direct when faced with a situation that might rate a lie.

Mar. 06 2008 10:18 AM
MS

Finally somehow publishes something in a blog worth reading. Thank you! I'm glad others understand how much crap is out there based on garbage data. But, remember, if someone who believes in those garbage articles were to read this one, they'd think *you're* full of nonsense. That's how silly the readers of this discipline has become.

Thanks for posting this.

Mar. 05 2008 01:25 PM

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