Pre-thinking:

She started by discussing, of all things, how a slimy green drink containing tryptophan is related to good problem-solving and decision making. Citing her research, the press reported that cheese sandwiches and chocolate (which also contain tryptophan) are good for decision making and problem-solving.

Notice that the press, in their headlines over simplified her research. Throughout her presentation watch for the limits and results of her study and how the results may be over generalized to make a point (ie. to sell a product).

Why you should listen:

Can what you eat influence your sense of justice? Will a simple drug make you more likely to help a stranger on the street? Neuroscientist Molly Crockett asks and answers these and many other fascinating questions about the influence of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, on altruism and decision-making. Neuroscience may hold the answer, says Crockett, but there are still limits to our ability to draw conclusions from neural research.

Who is she:

Molly Crockett received her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2011, and she is currently working with support from the four-year Sir Henry Welcome Postdoctoral Fellowship studying human altruism in laboratories worldwide.

Questions:

  1. Describe Crockett’s research and her findings (what was the independent variable; what was the dependent variable)?
  1. Find some instances in marketing where manufacturers may be going beyond the data to “prove” the value of their products. Make a poster of products that use the term “neuroscience” in their claims. Based upon your past knowledge and understanding, do any of these seem to go beyond the data.
  1. The term “junk science’ is sometimes used; is this the result of the current popular media going beyond the data?
  1. Crockett says that she could not find any controlled research backing the claims of Neuro drinks; she says that the promises of neuroscience has lead to some really high expectations and some over blown, unproven claims. Set up a debate on this topic.
  1. Crockett cited studies using the examples of brain scans and hormone research on areas of the brain that shows activation in certain area. Although these have been interpreted as “loving your IPhone” or the “moral molecule”, in both cases the results could be interpreted very differently. Discuss this with someone who is knowledgeable about brain science and explore why these conclusions were drawn.
  1. “I am more excited than most people, as a neuroscientist, about the potential for neuroscience to treat mental illness and maybe even to make us better and smarter.” But, we are not there yet! Currently, would a good therapist be more effective in treating someone with emotional problems than a neuroscientist? Discuss your answer with someone.

Beware of neuro-bunk with Molly Crockett

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