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

I’ve written about this before ( and, but reading through Dorothy Bishop’s excellent BishopBlog (, I came across a post of hers which made the points more clearly than I can:

Bishop also links to 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 (  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 – .

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.


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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