Friday, June 11, 2010

So, if you are French, your neurons run your life? Or?

France, we are told, has created a brain and behavioural research unit specifically to form public policy around stuff like anti-smoking messages. One somewhat skeptical analyst reports,
As we've discussed several times, the 'neuro' of 'neuromarketing' is an interesting research focus but as an applied science it is completely premature and can currently tell us nothing about how best to appeal to the public that standard psychology can't do already.

Rather worringly, unit director Olivier Oullier seems to think that 'neuroscience' and 'neuroimaging' allows access to unconscious and emotional responses that aren't available to established behavioural research.

This is clearly crap and anyone who is aware of how neuroimaging studies are created knows that they rest on the quality of the psychological science.
Basically, people start smoking because they like it, and they stop smoking if and when they think the costs are too high. My dear old dad likes to say that he could buy a couple of cars from all he had saved by stopping smoking in the 1950s. Given that he will shortly celebrate a ninety-plus birthday, I can think of other things he may have saved as well - but I digress.

I doubt that - strictly speaking - Dad’s neurons played a key role. He is a life member of the Chartered Accountants’ Society of Canada (fifty years of service), and his keen accountant’s sense of alternative uses of money (= smoke or buy a car for my family) was likely the deciding factor. Yes, he needed neurons to calculate that, but it wasn’t really the neurons that were making the decision. It was attitudes, values, beliefs, concerns, commitments, etc., that guided him.

As long as the French keep that element in mind, I wish them all the best in their project.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose