Our most important finding concerns the effect that explanatorily irrelevant neuroscience information has on subject’s judgments of the explanations. For novices and students, the addition of such neuroscience information encouraged them to judge the explanations more favorably, particularly the bad explanations. That is, extraneous neuroscience information makes explanations look more satisfying than they actually are, or at least more satisfying than they otherwise would be judged to be. The students in the cognitive neuroscience class showed no benefit of training, demonstrating that only a semester’s worth of instruction is not enough to dispel the effect of neuroscience information on judgments of explanations. Many people thus systematically misunderstand the role that neuroscience should and should not play in psychological explanations, revealing that logically irrelevant neuroscience information can be seductive—it can have much more of an impact on participants’ judgments than it ought to.There's a reason that folks try to make their prescriptions look more sciency.
Regardless of the breadth of our effect or the mechanism by which it occurs, the mere fact that irrelevant information can interfere with people’s judgments of explanations has implications for how neuroscience information in particular, and scientific information in general, is viewed and used outside of the laboratory. Neuroscience research has the potential to change our views of personal responsibility, legal regulation, education, and even the nature of the self (Farah, 2005; Bloom, 2004b). To take a recent example, some legal scholars have suggested that neuroimaging technology could be used in jury selection, to ensure that jurors are free of bias, or in questioning suspects, to ensure that they are not lying (Rosen, 2007). Given the results reported here, such evidence presented in a courtroom, a classroom, or a political debate, regardless of the scientific status or relevance of this evidence, could strongly sway opinion, beyond what the evidence can support (see Feigenson, 2006). We have shown that people seem all too ready to accept explanations that allude to neuroscience, even if they are not accurate reflections of the scientific data, and even if they would otherwise be seen as far less satisfying. Because it is unlikely that the popularity of neuroscience findings in the public sphere will wane any time soon, we see in the current results more reasons for caution when applying neuroscientific findings to social issues. Even if expert practitioners can easily distinguish good neuroscience explanations from bad, they must not assume that those outside the discipline will be as discriminating.
Saturday, 22 October 2011
Start by constructing good and bad explanations for psychological phenomena, with the latter just being circular restatements of the phenomenon. See how well a control test pool can distinguish good from bad explanations. Add irrelevant neuroscience jargon to both explanations without altering the form of either explanation. Surprise! Adding the sciency flavour makes it harder to distinguish good from bad explanations.