Seeing Is Believing: The Effect of Brain Images on Judgments of Scientific Reasoning

Department of Psychology, Colorado State University, Campus Box 1876, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1876, USA.
Cognition (Impact Factor: 3.63). 05/2008; 107(1):343-52. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.07.017
Source: PubMed


Brain images are believed to have a particularly persuasive influence on the public perception of research on cognition. Three experiments are reported showing that presenting brain images with articles summarizing cognitive neuroscience research resulted in higher ratings of scientific reasoning for arguments made in those articles, as compared to articles accompanied by bar graphs, a topographical map of brain activation, or no image. These data lend support to the notion that part of the fascination, and the credibility, of brain imaging research lies in the persuasive power of the actual brain images themselves. We argue that brain images are influential because they provide a physical basis for abstract cognitive processes, appealing to people's affinity for reductionistic explanations of cognitive phenomena.

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    • "is attributable to abnormal brain physiology (Farah and Hook, 2013; Koebler, 2012). A number of scholars have cautioned that these images may be overly influential to laypersons (Compton, 2010; Dumit, 1999; Feigenson, 2006; Gurley and Marcus, 2008; Kulynych, 1997; McCabe and Castel, 2008; Pratt, 2005; Roskies, 2008; Weisberg et al., 2008), with the main concern that these images would be seen as more valuable and informative than objectively warranted. "
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    ABSTRACT: Both academic and legal communities have cautioned that laypersons may be unduly persuaded by images of the brain and may fail to interpret them appropriately. While early studies confirmed this concern, a second wave of research was repeatedly unable to find evidence of such a bias. The newest wave of studies paints a more nuanced picture in which, under certain circumstances, a neuroimage bias reemerges. To help make sense of this discordant body of research, we highlight the contextual significance of understanding how laypersons' decision making is or is not impacted by neuroimages, provide an overview of findings from all sides of the neuroimage bias question, and discuss what these findings mean to public use and understanding of neuroimages. Advances in the field of neuroscience offer an unprecedented means of investigating the biological roots of human behavior. In particular, improvements in imaging technologies like positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allow researchers to study previously inaccessible structures and functions of the brain in order to learn more about the brain's role in behavior. Of particular relevance to the public is whether some characteristic(s) of the brain can differentiate a " criminal mind " from a " normal " one. This notion that brain physiology may play a role in criminal behavior has, inevitably, seeped into the courtroom. An ever-increasing number of criminal cases include some form of neuroscien-tific evidence (such as neuroimages) when making the claim that a defendant's criminal behavior
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    • "We contend that pairing texts and graphics together does not always provide an additive effect, and the addition of separate models of text and graphics processing is insufficient to predict the outcome of the combination of both referents. The spatial arrangement in which information is displayed can subtly communicate relationships among or between that information, (Hegarty, 2011; McCabe & Castel, 2008) and displays effective for one task may be ineffective for another (Hegarty, 2011; Liben, 2001; Schnotz, Bannert, & Seufert, 2002; Tversky, 2001; Tversky, Morrison, & Betrancourt, 2002). Thus, we propose that the synergistic effect resulting from combining texts and graphics cannot be satisfactorily predicted by merely adding a model of text-processing (Kintsch, 1992) to a model of graphic-processing (Hegarty, 2011). "
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    • "Using a somewhat different paradigm, another research group showed that brain images, but not other sorts of illustrations, increased perceptions of the quality of scientific reasoning in articles about scientific advances (McCabe & Castel, 2008). More recently, however, several studies with more precise methodologies have failed to replicate those findings (Farah & Hook, 2013; Gruber & Dickerson, 2012; Michael, Newman, Vuorre, Cumming, & Garry, 2013). "
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