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The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations

In general people often believe explanations because they find them intuitively satisfying (not because they are accurate). With this in mind, the authors of the study below tested whether the presence of neuroscience information would be seen as a strong maker of a good explanation regardless of the actual status of that information within the explanation. Or, put differently, would the presence of neuroscience information encourage people to believe they received a scientific explanation when they have not? The answer is yes. This leads people to uncritically accept explanations containing neuroscience information (even when the neuroscience information is irrelevant to the logic of the explanation!)

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Abstract: 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 naıve 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.

Source: The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 20:3, pp. 470–477