28 Jun 2006
... or rather: the use of fMRI in experiments might lead to overrating of its findings.
I know it's not the best blogging style to relink pages that just appeared somewhere else. But this is just great: here I wrote another neurobiology exam last monday, including questions on brain scanning methods (PRT,FMRI,EEG,MEG) and what they can be used for. And now I read this:
It's good to know the limitations of all those methods, but maybe that is not enough, as an experiment mentioned in this article suggests: Even experts could be persuaded to give a better rating for bad explanations of experiment setups when some nonsense-neurorological fMRI-buzzwords were given. "For both the novices and the experts (cognitive neuroscientists in the Yale psychology department), the presence of a bit of apparently-hard science turned bad explanations into satisfactory ones."
So it's really worthwile to learn this lesson by heart. Why is fMRI so seducing?

The authors say that we're natural dualists, still surprised that thinking can actually be watched. Still, there's not much more to it than just watching. Understanding is something else. FMRI is a functional method, giving you information on where increased activity is happening. That's how the neurological buzzwords where used: "These [buzzwords] were entirely irrelevant, basically stating that the phenomenon occurred in a certain part of the brain." The time resolution of fMRI is actually really bad, so there is a restricted range of experiments that can really use fMRI methods to give surprising new insights.

"We know far more about the mind from the study of, say, reaction times than we do from fMRI studies."  This is a good example because reaction times allow you to say how much computation action A needs in contrast to action B. There have been many interesting findings based on that simple experiment setup, but what do you have to illustrate that when you publish them? A graph. Bohooooring. FMRI gives neat colored pictures. That's one of the reasons of its popularity.
# lastedited 29 Jun 2006
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