The trouble with brain scans

In the world of mental health and psychiatry the use of brain scans is often highly suspect as the data from them is often been manipulated to support weak theories about mental illness. Still, neuroscience is exciting and the developments that are happening are certainly fascinating.

It’s a good idea to approach any reports that use brain scan data critically and carefully. This article in the Guardian brings up some good things to be aware of when considering any reports that use brain scans to support their claims.

Many of the methods on which brain scan studies are based have been flawed

Neuroscientists have long been banging their heads on their desks over exaggerated reports of brain scanning studies. Media stories illustrated with coloured scans, supposedly showing how the brain works, are now a standard part of the science pages and some people find them so convincing that they are touted as ways of designing education for our children, evaluating the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and testing potential recruits. Recently, to the chagrin of French scientists, politicians called for neuro-imaging to be used in the courts to decide on the guilt of criminals, after the technology made its dubious debut in the legal systems of India, Italy and the US.

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. (read more)

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