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I recently received an unsolicited email from a training company offering to enlighten me about the ‘Neuroscience of difficult conversations.’ What could be better? Imagine being more effective at those difficult conversations, while knowing that I have hard brain-science on my side. But are people tempted to slip in a reference to ‘neuroscience’ in the belief that they will sound more credible? [Read more]

Recently on the BBC’s Daily Politics, I argued that this is appears to be the case. The feature was about the way in which politicians had latched on to an idea put forward in a Harvard research paper Power posing: brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels… and of course the hugely popular Ted Talk, by one of the authors, Amy Cuddy. For a long time we have known that standing in a more confident way increases ‘self-reported’ levels of confidence, but people became very excited about the paper published by Cuddy et al, as it appeared to centre on measurable changes in our brain chemistry (and since, very much disputed.)

So, do we more readily see an explanation as valid if there’s a mention of Neuroscience? Professor Diego Fernandez-Duque of Villanova University sought to test the hypothesis. Across a series of four studies he asked dozens of students to rate the validity of explanations of psychological phenomena, in a number of mock papers. In some of these, the researchers had planted flawed or circular explanations. Some explanations were laced with superfluous mentions of neuroscience and some were not. The research strongly bears out the hypothesis. Even the smartest students were significantly more likely to rate an explanation as valid if it contained a superfluous mention of Neuroscience.

At Threshold we see Neuroscience as a rich seam of knowledge to be celebrated, but we warn our clients to stay vigilant for fool’s gold.