Thursday, June 29, 2006
The Seduction of Social Neuroscience
Seedmagazine.com has an interesting story about Elizabeth Gould at Princeton University. Her work with marmosets suggests that poverty and stress cause such profound changes during neurogenesis that the brain doesn’t have much of a chance to recover later in life. Of course, one should be careful not to overinterpret this kind of work as far humans go, but it is thought-provoking nevertheless.
In a more recent Seed article, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom writes about how fMRI images are seducing scientists, grant committees, and the public. On why fMRI is so seductive, Bloom writes, “It has all the trappings of work with great lab-cred: big, expensive, and potentially dangerous machines, hospitals and medical centers, and a lot of people in white coats.“ He also mentions a study by one of his graduate students, Deena Skolnick, who found that both neuroscience novices and cognitive neuroscientists rated otherwise bad scientific explanations as more satisfactory when a little neuroscience jargon was thrown in. Bloom sounds like such a sensible guy, and I noticed that he's recently written a book with an intriguing title: Descartes' baby: How the science of child development explains what makes us human (New York: Basic Books). He also mentions that his approach to social cognition assumes that humans are natural dualists...seeing the world the way Descartes did (i.e., bodies are physical things separate from souls). I must look for more of his stuff.