When I posted my article on Narrative and the Brain a few weeks ago, I had no idea it would be my most popular article by far, both in terms of article views and in terms of number of times it was shared on different social media.
It's nice to see people as excited about neuroscience as I am. I'll try to tie in more of the relevant brain stuff in future posts as it relates to writing and literature. However, I also feel some responsibility to make sure my readers are well equipped to interpret brain imaging results. Because brain data has a rather high "sexy" factor, it's easy for it to get overblown or misinterpreted in the popular press.
So before I go on to the brain stuff, I'm going to slip in a few posts about brain imaging experiments and how to interpret them correctly.
Just how sexy are brains? Scientists at Colorado State University did an experiment to test the effect of adding a colored brain picture to a science article. In this experiment, participants read papers either with bogus claims ("watching TV increases math skills") or realistic research. The articles were either accompanied by a bar graph or a brain image. After reading, participants were asked to rate the article's believability.
The scientists found that the presence of the brain image on the study made the participants more likely to believe the results, regardless of the actual quality of the study. There's just something seductive about that brain picture that makes it seem more reliable.
So what's the moral of this cautionary tale? Should we all stay away from articles with brain images? Of course not! Brain imaging studies can tell us alot about how the brain works. Just make sure you're still thinking critically about those studies, and don't take something on faith just because it has a brain picture.
In my next brain article (coming in a few weeks -- this is primarily a writing blog, after all), I'll go over some tips and common mistakes people make when drawing conclusions from brain imaging studies.
I'd love to know your thoughts on this study. Surprised? Not surprised? And also, I'd love to hear what people would like to see in terms of brain stuff on the blog as well.
Fascinating! It hadn't occurred to me that we could be influenced so subtly - I thought the bar graphs would have more influence.ReplyDelete
I'm looking forward to the next article.
I'm actually not surprised. I remember vaguely in a past math class that graphs and pie charts are often skewed in advertising. Can't really skew with the brain too much before it stops looking like a healthy brain. The reader must think the article is genuine like the brain, even when the data is bogus.ReplyDelete
I'd love to see some facts about the idea that the size of a brain correlates to how many people that person can care about and maybe other myths associated with brain size.
SM Schmidt -- Hmm, the idea of correlation between brain size and how many people a person can care about is definitely false. It's one of those myths that are so far from reality that I'm not even sure what scientific principle got misinterpreted to give rise to that rumor. :-PReplyDelete
i should start adding brain images to my blog posts.ReplyDelete
Rita Carter has a fascinating book on how the brain works (you may well know of it as it's your field). One little piece in it explains that musicians can't improvise and read music at the same time, because different parts of the brain are required and they can't both be 'on' at the same time. Extrapolated to writing, this means you can't make things up (first draft) and edit critically at the same time!ReplyDelete
Boy, shows a lot of people are not careful readers. I would assume visual learners would be more affected than other styles. Interesting stuff :)ReplyDelete
I'm not surprised at all, but then again, I'm a marketer. Some of my colleagues leverage this kind of compliance material on a regular basis. I try not to -- I want to sleep at night! -- but once you know about it, it's hard to avoid...ReplyDelete
That's such a fascinating study. I hope they published it with lots of sexy pictures of brains! ;)ReplyDelete
dirtywhitecandy -- Hmm, interesting. What book is that? My first intuition is that it should be the opposite of what you describe. We usually assume for that when two mental tasks can't occur at the same time, they use the same psychological process, rather than different. In the case of reading music vs. improvising, reading music seems like a skill that can become automatic after a while, and thus amenable to multitasking (simultaneous improvisation).ReplyDelete
Perhaps you can't read music and improv at the same time because those areas of the brain don't know how to collaborate. One of them has to be driving and there's no room for a passenger?ReplyDelete
Kelly -- that's true in some cases. A lot of tasks that require attention can only be done one at a time before performance starts going down. This is assumed to be because "attention" is a limited resource.ReplyDelete