Quinn Norton created this great image spoofing the tendency to treat experimental results as more scientific when they are accompanied by images of the brain:

Image by Quinn Norton showing an area of the brain that shuts off when it sees brain images.

The figure suggests that there is area of the brain that shuts off when interpreting neuroscience findings. A nice study by Weisberg and colleagues found that adding a line of meaningless “neurobabble” (the neuroscience equivalent of “psychobabble”)  to the explanation of a scientific result led people to find that explanation more compelling. Just mentioning brain areas led people to think the explanation was better, even though the neurobabble added nothing of logical value to the explanation. The effect seems even stronger when pretty pictures of brains (we call these “brain porn”) are involved. In Chapter 4 of The Invisible Gorilla we argue that neurobabble and brain porn succeed because they play on the illusion of knowledge—our proclivity to think that we understand more about a topic than we really do.

“Neurobabble” study: Weisberg, D., Keil, F., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E. & Gray, J. R. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 470–477.

“Brain porn” study: McCabe, D.P., & Castel, A.D. (2008). Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning. Cognition, 107, 343–352.

A big chest thump to Vaughan who wrote about this image at the Mind Hacks blog

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