Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brain Scans Explain Nothing

Finally, a neuroscientist points out that those colored brain scans featured in so many popular articles about the mind explain nothing at all:
Brain scans pinpoint how chocoholics are hooked. This headline appeared in The Guardian a couple years ago above a science story that began: “Chocoholics really do have chocolate on the brain.” The story went on to describe a study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of chocoholics and non-cravers. The study found increased activity in the pleasure centers of the chocoholics’ brains, and the Guardian report concluded: “There may be some truth in calling the love of chocolate an addiction in some people.”
The evidence? The pleasure centers of the brain light up more in fMRI images for self-proclaimed chocoholics than for others. But, asks Diane Beck,
what does this study actually show? It shows that people who define themselves as chocolate cravers have more activity, relative to people who do not define themselves as chocolate cravers, is certain pleasures centers of the brain. That is, the sight and taste of chocolate activated the brain’s reward system in cravers, documenting . . . what? Well, documenting that some people find chocolate more rewarding than others.
As Beck asks, why do we need a brain scan to corroborate what most people probably already believe anyway?

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