Monday, July 10, 2006

Sex in Social Neuroscience Sells Too

As one of my earlier posts pointed out, "social neuroscience" is as sexy to some social scientists as Amanda Congdon is to some vlogophiles. Personally, I've been studying the relationship of human social behavior to bodily processes since the days when Martha Quinn was the hottest VJ on MTV. The topic was sexy then, but it was all about using Grass polygraphs in the laboratory to measure cardiac activity, EEG, and facial EMG. Those were heady days in Cacioppo's lab at the University of Iowa, which even included getting our Apple II protocols to run on IBM PCs. I still think the research of that era had more scientific bang for the buck than today's expensive fMRI studies.

With two journals now devoted exclusively to social neuroscience (or "social cognitive neuroscience" as the Lieberman crowd likes to call it!), and still plenty of other prestigious outlets (e.g., Nature Neuroscience, JPSP, Science, etc.) available, can our plucky little field really produce enough good research to fill all those pages? Of course not. But that doesn't stop people from putting out a press release each time they conduct a study with blinking lights and powerful magnets. Some researchers are especially notorious for their press releases, so I was relieved to see that there are bloggers out there ready to give those flashy studies a thorough review (even if the journal's reviewers did not!). A great recent example is the critique by Chris at Mixing Memory of a new study on person perception by Jason Mitchell, Neil Macrae and Mahzarin Banaji in the May issue of Neuron. I have to admit that I have not read the study yet, but this critique makes some excellent points that could apply to other human imaging studies in social psychology as well (a new study from Susan Fiske's lab at Princeton comes to mind!). You should also read the discussion of this study in BRAINETHICS as well. When I get a chance to read the Mitchell et al. study, I'll write an update. This post is simply to express my gratitude for the development of science blogs and the willingness of intelligent bloggers to write such critiques.

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