Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Put Up or Shut Up

By way of language log, there's a report of research indicating that irrelevant neuroscientific discussion enhances the perceived quality of psychological explanations. The authors suggest that the effect may occur in virtue of deeper failures to evaluate evidence such as the "seductive details" effect or a tendency to favor reductive explanations in general. Neither of these reasons for error would exclusively concern neuroscientific explanations.

Nevertheless, I'm particularly bothered by the report because a moderate portion of my reading includes neuroscientific evidence. I can hope the authors are responsible: one of the study's findings is that neuroscientific evidence doesn't bias readers' judgments of antecedently good explanations. That's only possible if the authors themselves have a strong grasp of the material. If they don't, then they'll be subject to the same effect, leading them to include irrelevant evidence. In that case, the question is whether I'd be fooled. The bad news is that of the three groups studied (naive subjects, students in college cognitive neuroscience courses, and experts) only the experts had an accurate response to the evidence. Ergo, much reading to do for me.

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