If you want to sell it, put a brain on it

December 19th, 2012

It feels like 90% of the products being hawked as treatments for learning and developmental disorders like dyslexia, language impairments, autism, Asperger’s and ADHD make claims about the brain. Claims include:

  • “based on brain science”.
  • “designed by neuroscientists”
  • “brain based”
  • “neuroplasticity”
  • “sharpen memory and attention with brain games and tools”
  • “change your brain”.

There’s a good reason why companies invoke brain science in selling products. Research has shown that consumers are more likely to rate a claim as credible if it is accompanied by a picture of a brain image (McCabe & Castel, 2008). This seems to happen even if the claim is complete nonsense. Is it any wonder that programs and products (see here, here and here for examples) invoke the brain in the marketing process? It seems human lose their powers of reasoning when presented with a brain.

The neuroscientist Molly Crockett has given a recent TED talk titled “Beware neuro-bunk” in which she cautions against placing too much stock in claims ‘based on neuroscience’.

Crockett cautions us that there’s always more to the story than the brain images. She says “if someone tries to sell you something with a brain on it, ask to see the evidence. Ask for the part of the story that’s not being told.”

Here are other cautionary tales on the same subject:

Psychology Today

The New Statesman

The New Yorker

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

The Conversation (Max Coltheart)

The Conversation (Anne Castles & Genevieve McArthur)

Dorothy Bishop

Happy holidays.

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