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One of the foundation myths of modern psychology: “Brain Scans Show”

I’ve written about this before (https://millerpsych.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/was-more-psychology-disguised-as-physiology-now-psychology-the-secret-of-life/ and https://millerpsych.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/just-what-are-fmri-scans-supposed-to-be-proving/), but reading through Dorothy Bishop’s excellent BishopBlog (http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/), I came across a post of hers which made the points more clearly than I can:
http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/brain-scans-show-that.html

Bishop also links to  http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/brain-scans-prove-that-brain-does-stuff.html from Neuroskeptic, who makes similar points. Neuroskeptic’s argument is not as carefully organised as Bishop’s (and ends up by dismissing the James-Lange theory of emotions as obviously rubbish, which isn’t really justified), but is pleasantly forceful.

Neuroskeptic also discusses the Bennet & al (2009) ‘brain scan of emotion-judging activity in a dead fish’ study (http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/fmri-gets-slap-in-face-with-dead-fish.html)  which Christina mentioned in her lecture. The original poster by Bennet & al (it didn’t make it into a peer-reviewed journal, as far as I know) is at http://prefrontal.org/files/posters/Bennett-Salmon-2009.jpg – .

Why do we believe these stories, and believe that brain scans are the royal road to an understanding of the unconscious (or at least a way of answering psychological questions)? I’ll try to explain in my next lecture.

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2 responses to “One of the foundation myths of modern psychology: “Brain Scans Show”

  1. Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) October 31, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Hi, thanks for the link! Mypoint in that post wasn’t to reject the James-Lange theory, although it did kind of end up doing that. What I was trying to argue was that, regardless of the biological/psychological mechanisms at work, the essential reason that you’re scared when faced by a bear, is that it’s a scary bear; it’s not as if you are suffering from some kind of essentially biological disturbance (such as temporal lobe epilepsy). Of course there are biological steps on the way from seeing a bear to feeling scared, but the bear is the root cause, not the biology.

    • millerpsych October 31, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      You’re right: I was being a bit unfair. But perhaps the ‘brain scan proves’ stuff is the James-Lange theory taken to the logical and absurd extreme, and I’m right with you on rubbishing that.

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