Neuroscience explanations are more believable than mere psychological ones


16 Responses to “Neuroscience explanations are more believable than mere psychological ones”

  1. Niel de Beaudrap says:

    Fascinating! I wonder what neurological basis would be responsible for this effect.

    Quite seriously though: many an internet debate has been filled with arguments riddled with extraneous details, submitted in the hopes of being more convincing; and a good amont of the time the gambit seems to succeed. Why is that? I rather suspect that it’s part of how people evaluate claims: by adding the right amount of detail (enough to suggest a foundation in reality, but not enough to bore), we find that stories, descriptions of behaviour, and claims of mechanism alike become more convincing. The added detail itself doesn’t have to be functional, though, in order to convince people who aren’t thinking about it too hard: it just has to sound “likely enough to be pertinent”, or seem “hard to invent”.

    Getting to the root of that would capture a lot of how we behave as reasoning animals.

    • Jonathan Badger says:

      The article treats it as if it were a negative, but frankly, I’d *hope* that people treat studies with hard data and plausible mechanisms as more believable than those without it, even if the conclusions and logic are the same. Yes, not all such studies are well done; it’s possible that researchers are misinterpreting data and their conclusions are not actually supported by the data, and yes, the general public doesn’t necessarily understand how to know whether a result is statistically significant, but in general, putting trust in data isn’t unwarranted.

      • Nick Schweitzer says:

        I think the researchers in this case went to great lengths to make sure that the neuro and non-neuro explanations were substantively the same, giving readers no real basis for preferring the neuro ones. There were also a few other studies that year (Gurley & Marcus 2008; McCabe & Castel 2008) that showed similar effects.

        (I know about those studies because I published two papers this year trying to figure out whether this means that neuroscience-based evidence would be similarly biasing to jurors. Interestingly,  I was not able to find any such bias.)

        • Jonathan Badger says:

          Yes, I *understand* that the authors created artificial situations where the neuroscience data didn’t contribute; my point is that is a very artificial situation and doesn’t reflect reality. To use an analogy, you could come up with artificial humanities studies where the authors put in spurious citations and compare it to the same study without any citations at all and say “Hey, people believed the one with spurious citations more; citations are therefore rubbish”.

      • dionhenare says:

        I think the point is that just putting brain words in an article doesn’t necessarily mean hard data and plausible mechanisms. If the neuroscience is unrelated to the conclusions then you shouldn’t hope people are more likely to believe it when it’s there. Otherwise the next time anyone wants to publish a study they’ll put in spurious neuroscience just for the sake of it.

  2. bkad says:

    This is probably because ‘neuroscience’ has ‘science’ in it. Psychology does not. 

    I kid.

    Honestly, though, I do tend to have more faith in chemical and biological explanations than ‘we did a big survey’ or ‘we put some people in a room’ explanations. That’s my bias, only strengthened by some pro-physical-sciences brainwashing in college. I hope I wouldn’t be fooled by irrelevant arguments, but guess what, I’m a human, and humans make stupid reasoning mistakes.

    I’m interested how this affects my ability to judge accuracy of wikipedia articles. I have to apply a heuristic judgement, because if I were an expert on the article in question I wouldn’t have looked it up. I think most of the ‘truth feel’ I get from an article has to do with organization and writing quality. This is unfair to English as a second language speakers and doesn’t catch clever liars, but judging articles by writing quality and organization is still probably a good filter. However, I also look for what look like scientific facts and plausible reasoning from the same. And this may not always work…

  3. atimoshenko says:

    For some reason I have the inclination to completely trust this paper…

  4. Utenzil says:

    I could only pay attention long enough to look at the picture. So the problems come from little people playing golf in my head?

  5. sarcasmatron says:

    Psychology is to Neuroscience what Astrology is to Astronomy. Or at least that’s my laypeople’s notion of it.

    • Matt Valley says:

      Psychology is definitely not similar to astrology; it is a rigorous observational science, but relies on neuroscience for any mechanistic explanation of these observations.

      Perhaps a better analogy would be Psychology is to Neuroscience what Meterology is to Thermodynamics.

    • dionhenare says:

      That’s probably the exact layperson’s interpretation that leads to the effect described in the article. 

  6. trefecta says:

    “For novices and students, the addition of such neuroscience information
    encouraged them to judge the explanations more favorably, particularly
    the bad explanations.”

    In this case, assuming something is logical and scientific because it appears logical and based in the ‘physical sciences’ is favored over the actual valid claim in the conceptual sphere. This seems to imply that, as said jocularly above, it’s more believable because it has the word ‘science’ in it, and not because it’s rigorously understood.

    Marketing / Bullshitting Tactic: Make it seem scientific. Throw in some irrelevant data. Add some  decimals and variable names.

    Our culture (human-kind?) clearly holds the appearance of science (even clearer: the physical sciences) dearer than the actual process of science. Here, on this blog, people are more apt to be critical thinkers, but for most people saying “scientifically proven” (whatever that is supposed to mean) is a sure way to build trust.

    Interesting that neuroscience students would believe neuroscience claims over psychological ones. Wonder how psychology students would go…

    @sarcasmatron Phrenology is to Neuroscience what Astrology is to Astronomy. Psychology is to Neuroscience what Astronomy is to Astrophysics.

  7. Julian Fine says:

    I spent a month summarizing journals for Alzheimer’s research and within the firs two days found that, far from being artificial, this is pretty much the norm for cognitive neuroscience experiments. MRIs are fantastic for mapping structural brain data,  like tracking neurdegeneration of the cortex. However, if you want to connect functional structural data to a psychological process, the data becomes much more ambiguous and that leads to a lot of specious claims.

  8. cameronhorsburgh says:

    CAT Scan or it didn’t happen.

  9. jhertzli says:

    I’ve recently gotten interested in allegedly-scientific studies based on pathetically-small samples. It looks like a disproportionate number of these are on the psychology–neuroscience border. I’ve looked  at 16 studies so far and, by neuroscience standards, I could publish something.

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