We co-hosted (with NIACE) a great event here last night on neuroscience and lifelong learning. For me it confirmed a few earlier impressions:
• Awareness of the basics of neuroscience, and of the big and undisputed discoveries it has made in recent years, is spreading more and more widely. It is becoming a branch of science that many non-scientists in areas like education and social policy feel they need to understand.
• This is also true of the general public. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore talked about the ‘seductive allure’ of neuroscientific explanations and Paul Howard-Jones told us that teenagers were not just fascinated but motivated when they better understood the relationship between learning and brain function.
• However, the main thing that will stop the insights of neuroscience making a major impact on society is hype about neuroscience. For example, I have Mark Earls to thank for a link to some research reported in the New Scientist which exposes the ‘voodoo correlations’ underlying claims that certain emotional traits and pre-dispositions are hard-wired into specific and identifiable parts of the brain.
• A good example of this is the brain training industry. There is some evidence that some methods have some effect on cognitive capacity but nothing that justifies the claims made by the retailers of the various devices on the market.
• The contribution of neuroscience to policy and everyday life is better understood and less subject to exaggeration when its insights are explored alongside those coming from areas such as developmental and social psychology.
These aren’t just random insights but they are shaping our social brain project here at the RSA.
If you’ve ever had experience of psychotherapy you’ll be used to being asked how you feel about something. You typically start by explaining your emotions, but soon you realise you’re not feeling anything at all. You’re just talking.