If you want to win an argument, just namedrop
the cuddle hormone oxytocin, the
lust-romance-addiction chemical dopamine, or the
According to a new study, people think that neuroscience — or anything that sounds like neuroscience — is pretty convincing, thanks to the so-called “allure of neuroscience” bias.
A team lead by Villanova psychologist Diego Fernandez-Duque presented 294 undergraduates with explanations for behaviours (some of them nonsense) and asked the students to rate how convincing the arguments were.
The arguments came in three flavours:
• With an appeal to social science (like how someone was raised might shape their behaviour)
• With an appeal to biological science (like how DNA would shape a behaviour)
• With an appeal to neuroscience (like a region of the brain associated with a behaviour)
In each case, the neuroscientific explanation — neocortex this, amygdala that — was seen as the most convincing.
The researchers call it the “allure of neuroscience” bias. It’s a specialised form of the “prestige of science” bias, which states that people are more likely to believe things that look sciencey, like graphs or equations.
“My initial prediction was that we would get rid of the [allure of neuroscience] effect when we compared it the hard sciences,” Fernandez-Duque tells Tech Insider. “But it turns out that it’s the ‘neuro’ of the neuroscience that gives the effect. Even when you compare it to genetic or maths gibberish, the neuro gibberish wins the day, at least for psychology undergraduates.”
While they don’t have hard data on it, Fernandez-Duque and his co-authors reason that people defer to neuroscience because of the discipline’s close associations with the brain.
Given the lay belief that the brain is the engine of the mind, neuroscience satisfies the inner 2-year-old in everybody that keeps asking but why, but why, but why, she says.
“Neuroscience feels more true because you’re reaching the ultimate layer,” says co-author Sara Hodges, who’s a psychology professor at the University of Oregon.
“What’s the most basic substrate that explains our behaviour? Seeing correlations between certain activities in the brain and certain behaviours seems like we found it,” she says. “But the problem is that you’ll see the same areas of the brain active in two different behaviours. You think you’ve explained logic, but you’ve really explained that this person is awake.”
Fernandez-Duque his co-authors
are careful to note that neuroscientific explanations only get the prestige bump when explaining things related to the individual mind. It wouldn’t make sense to “talk neuro” about climate change, and when the neuro- prefix is paired with economics, it’s almost always in terms of a person’s individual choices, not whether the stock market went up or down.
But if you’re trying to explain why someone did something, you can count on neurobabble to make you sound more convincing.
“Just adding that ‘this is happening in a certain part of the brain makes people say, ‘Oh I understand it, it’s been explained to me,'” Hodges says.
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