When Brain Scans Mislead


What's a happy brain look like, anyway? / hide caption

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Punch "brain scans" into Google News today and you'll turn up recent stories on MRI images that supposedly depict brains that are "racist," and others that show brains "deeply in love."

But look a little more critically at the studies behind those stories on the emotional brain. As NPR's Jon Hamilton explains tonight on All Things Considered, journalists and even scientists sometimes get seduced by the pretty pictures of a brain scan, and don't realize how misleading they can be as a measure of thought, emotion, or personality. As Hamilton says:

The images appear amazingly crisp and precise. But scientists say the truth behind them is a little fuzzier.

Hamilton interviewed one of the researchers who reviewed a number of recent brain scan studies and pointed out the flaws in a journal review article they initially called "Voodoo correlations" in social neuroscience. (Eventually, the scientists were pressured to change the title of their review to "Puzzlingly high correlations in fMRI studies of emotion, personality, and social cognition."

But you catch the drift...

Don't miss Hamilton's unsettling story.



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