Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
Popular neuroscience. the new frontier,or an exercise in misdirection.pdf (180.21 kB)

Popular neuroscience: the new frontier, or an exercise in misdirection?

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-08-03, 14:50 authored by Natalie Achamallah

“People often accept inaccurate explanations because they feel right.”

Functional neuroimages made their popular debut in a 1983 Vogue magazine article. The headline, ‘High-tech breakthrough in medicine: new seeing-eye machines… look inside your body, can save your life’ was accompanied by a graphic of three brilliantly coloured brains labelled “NORMAL,” “SCHIZO,” and “DEPRESSED”. By presenting the images this way, the magazine’s editors condensed a great deal of cultural content about concepts of human nature into concrete and distinct categories. Placing them next to each other asked the viewer to see their differences as the essential characteristics of the labels that describe them. With no other explanatory text, this display insisted that there are at least three kinds of brain. Viewers were persuaded to equate person with brain, brain with scan, and scan with diagnosis. We tend not to question the effect neuroimages have on us because there is something intuitively right about a machine being able to show us the difference between schizophrenic brains, depressed brains and normal brains. They seem to provide an objective way to distinguish ‘them’ (the mentally abnormal) from ‘us’. Without our realising it, the position of these images against each other compels us to see one as negative and the other as positive. When presented with both, we align the positive with the ideal.



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Published Citation

Achamallah N. Popular neuroscience: the new frontier, or an exercise in misdirection? RCSIsmj. 2015;8(1):66-68

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  • Undergraduate Research


RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences


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