Why We Need to be Cautious about Brain Scans

Mind Hack's writer Vaughan Bell has an excellent piece in The Observer Online about the many issues that remain to be solved for brain imaging (fMRI). Even though we constantly hear trumped up claims in the popular press about what brain imaging can tell us ("Brain Area for Niceness Found!"), Bell warns that brain imaging is merely 20 years old and still in its technological infancy. From the article:

This misplaced enthusiasm often stems from a misunderstanding about what brain scans tell us. The interpretation seems straightforward according to the popular press – the coloured blobs represent a "pleasure centre", an "art centre" or perhaps a "love centre" – but none of this is true.

All of our experiences and abilities rely on a distributed brain network and nothing relies on a single "centre". More than anything, the conclusions depend on the tasks volunteers undertake in the scanner and what each study tells us is limited. This small print has been repeated many times over by scientists. They bemoan how people misunderstand the subtleties and draw unwarranted conclusions. But now neuroscientists have had to come to terms with the fact that many of the methods on which brain scan studies are based have been flawed.

Read the entire article at The Observer

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Posted on May 29, 2012 .