Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Cheese, chocolate, decision making

Cheese and chocolate improve your decision making. Surprised? So was researcher Molly Crockett when she realised that this was what journalists had concluded her study that was actually on the impact the neurotransmitter serotonin had on social behaviour. In her TED Talk, she tells us to beware of what she calls “neuro-bunk”.  


Neuroscience is pretty much en vogue at the moment. Therefore, people seem to be particularly receptive to all messages that somehow involve the brain. For example, in a study, Molly Crockett found that the simple presence of a brain image makes people agree more with the conclusions drawn in a scientific article than they do without the brain image.

Molly Crocket says that in general, many of the findings from neuroscience are oversimplified. One claim often made is that you can read people’s thoughts and feelings by looking at their brain scans. This is not true because interactions in the brain are extremely complex and you can’t simply tell from the involvement of one region that individuals have a certain emotion or certain thoughts. Another claim is that you can conclude from the presence of a certain substance in your neural system that it triggers certain feelings or behaviours. Also here, interactions are a lot more complex.

Her advice is: If someone comes up with a certain message and claims that it is backed up by findings from neuroscience, always ask about the background. What exactly did the researchers study? What was the design of the study? This corresponds to what Clay Johnson, author of the book “The Information Diet” says: Always make sure that the information you take in is well researched and reflects the original source of information. We reported on this in an earlier post.

Thus, always be critical. This does not only apply to what is written in the news on findings from neuroscience. This applies to other domains as well. Don’t let yourself fool by anyone!

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