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.