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Bruno: Beware Of Researchers Brandishing Brain Scans

Based on Vaughan Bell's recommendation, I finally finished watching an excellent lecture by Dorothy Bishop on the dangers of using neuroimaging in educational research. It's long - almost an hour - but very accessible and speaks directly to a number of education research "findings" that have received attention in the press.


Bishop wants to make two big points: The first is that a lot of neuroscience - especially neuroimaging - doesn't tell us very much about human thinking and learning. For example, changes in the way different parts of the brain "light up" over the course of an experiment might have as much to do with the passage of time as they do with the experiment itself.

The second big point is that both scientists and laypeople are more likely to accept scientific claims if they are accompanied by neuroscience-y visuals - like images of brain scans - even if the claims themselves would be obviously bogus if presented alone. In other words, neuroimaging often provides little support for scientific claims about learning, but nevertheless makes us much more likely to believe such claims. That's a dangerous combination for anyone trying to interpret the latest educational research finding.

If you don't have the time to watch the whole thing, a summary of the lecture can be found here. And next time you read about an educational study with descriptions of "brain activity" ask yourself, "What would I think about these results if the researchers hadn't done any brain scanning?" - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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I agree, but that's not to say that neuroscience can *never* contribute to education--it's just a long road. I've written about techniques by which it can work, read it here:

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