What biological platitudes and scientific cliches do to our brain

Leo Widrich of BufferApp writes,

Our brain on stories: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us that they’ve experienced. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

And he goes on to quote some scientist to make his case about brain activation.

Popular marketing guru Seth Godin writes,

How can I explain the never-ending irrationality of human behavior?

The Lizard brain.

The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because her lizard brain told her to


Remember this author called Jonah Lehrer and his books Proust is a Neuroscientist, How We Decide and Imagine? All based on the discredited authors interpretation of brain science? Too bad he got busted for plagiarism and not for his ideas.

We cannot leave out the numerous books on neuro-marketing that claim to have uncovered the truth to product marketing, product placement, pricing,promotion etc through an understanding of our neural activity. Every time I write about Segmentation someone comments on my post saying it is not supported in brain science of marketing.

And then there are numerous TED talks. The list goes on.

Well meaning people with no training or understanding in brain science, more importantly without the will to seek contradictory evidence use some correlation based research as indisputable evidence, drawing conclusions that even the original researchers would not.

In a length piece in The Guardian neuropsychologist Vaughn Bell takes down the flimsy cases popular gurus (and quacks) make based on complex brain science.

The “biological proof” argument makes about as much sense as saying that you have confirmed that pancakes and pizzas “really are” different because you have chemically analysed the ingredients. It’s only in rare circumstances where two things appear to be identical that a biological analysis will be the deciding factor in confirming whether they differ or not.

instead of revealing the beautiful complexity at our core, we live in a culture where dull biological platitudes make headlines and irritating scientific cliches win arguments. In response, we do not need a simpler culture but one that embraces complexity.

Neuroscience holds a prism up to human nature. Be suspicious of anyone who says there are no colours to be seen.

Next time you hear a guru advice you about doing an activity because it is supported by data in brain research it would serve you well to reread Bell’s article.



4 thoughts on “What biological platitudes and scientific cliches do to our brain

  1. Two things stand out to me: one is that until Moynihan started asking questions of Lehrer, apparently nobody else had; the other is that I find it hard to believe that Lehrer is the only sketchy journalist getting published.
    Recently, I read How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, and noticed that Jonah Lehrer had a cover blurb. No big deal, until the Imagine scandal broke. Searching Google, I found a connection between Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell, of The Tipping Point, another book that I read and found seriously lacking in reason, or more to the point, trying to sell something through pseudo-science, the same response I had to How Children Succeed. The deeper question is: who is paying these writers and why?


  2. Here’s the thing. Scams always precede and accompany new knowledge. We also make the mistake of blaming the “pitcher” when the “catcher”, the audience, is really calling the shots.

    Neuro marketing and behavioral econ are pretty much completely silly, but lots of people are demanding these kinds of notions and will to pay time/money and attention to folks to give them what they want to believe. Pretty colored pictures help — NASA taught us that.

    It is likely pretty much the case that anything in pop science and TED is wrong — but very popular, by definition. You only really make any money telling ppl what they already know and want to hear.

    Still, that dynamic of silly stories and hucksters and evidence-based stuff is the path of new knowledge. Relax and enjoy the show. But don’t buy anything. Oh yeah, and read a lot.


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