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Gray Matter Chatter

- Abstract

If the field of neuroscience were to be represented by a single recognizable image—a logo—it would no doubt be a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan of the human brain. These computer-generated pictures with their smudges of fluorescent color have become the preferred artwork for pop neuroscience journalism and peer-reviewed brain research alike, and with good reason. As psychologists David P. McCabe and Alan D. Castel demonstrated in a 2008 study in the journal Cognition, when deliberately shoddy theories are presented alongside fMRI scans, non-experts are far more likely to find the flawed explanations satisfying. It isn’t just brain images that have this effect. Related research by Temple University’s Deena Skolnick Weisberg has found that sprinkling irrelevant neuroscientific language into explanations gives theories measurable punch. Bolstering one’s argument can be as easy as saying “brain scans show . . . ”

About the Author

Robert Herritt is a writer in New York City.