The Allure of Neuroscience Explanations

Always something to look out for. Another study indicates that neuroscientific explanations carry a false sense of credibility with the public.

ABSTRACT:

Does the presence of irrelevant neuroscience information make explanations of psychological phenomena more appealing? Do fMRI pictures further increase that allure? To help answer these questions, 385 college students in four experiments read brief descriptions of psychological phenomena, each one accompanied by an explanation of varying quality (good vs. circular) and followed by superfluous information of various types. Ancillary measures assessed participants’ analytical thinking, beliefs on dualism and free will, and admiration for different sciences. In Experiment 1, superfluous neuroscience information increased the judged quality of the argument for both good and bad explanations, whereas accompanying fMRI pictures had no impact above and beyond the neuroscience text, suggesting a bias that is conceptual rather than pictorial. Superfluous neuroscience information was more alluring than social science information (Experiment 2) and more alluring than information from prestigious “hard sciences” (Experiments 3 and 4). Analytical thinking did not protect against the neuroscience bias, nor did a belief in dualism or free will. We conclude that the “allure of neuroscience” bias is conceptual, specific to neuroscience, and not easily accounted for by the prestige of the discipline. It may stem from the lay belief that the brain is the best explanans for mental phenomena.

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