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The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations

PainSci » bibliography » Weisberg et al 2008
Tags: etiology, chronic pain, random, biology, biomechanics, mind, critical thinking, pro, pain problems

Two articles on PainSci cite Weisberg 2008: 1. Your Back Is Not Out of Alignment2. Therapy Babble

PainSci notes on Weisberg 2008:

This study found that ordinary people were more satisfied with bogus neuroscience talk than experts were. In other words, less educated folks are somewhat more likely to swallow fancy-sounding bullshit. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING.

Wait, false alarm: everything’s the same as before.

As proposed by Scot Morrison, PT, DPT, CSCS, this suggests that pain education may help people in part because it uses fancy neuroscience words: “Neuroscience has more mystique than biomechanics. Levers aren’t as cool as neuroplasticity. It’s a gentle reminder that why things make a difference and why we think they make a difference may not always coincide.”

Here’s an unusually good Facebook conversation about this paper.

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people's abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation. We tested this hypothesis by giving naïve adults, students in a neuroscience course, and neuroscience experts brief descriptions of psychological phenomena followed by one of four types of explanation, according to a 2 (good explanation vs. bad explanation) x 2 (without neuroscience vs. with neuroscience) design. Crucially, the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation, as confirmed by the expert subjects. Subjects in all three groups judged good explanations as more satisfying than bad ones. But subjects in the two nonexpert groups additionally judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on nonexperts' judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.

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