Neuroscience currently seems to be everywhere; every time you switch on the TV, in every newspaper article and, no doubt, somebody mentioned it in the canteen at work today.
The business world, originally a little slow in recognizing the potential of neuroscience to change the way organisations work, has recently been lapping up the findings of neuroscience to apply to everything from marketing to training methods.
But with neuroscience comes a lot of pseudoscience. Who do you believe and what information can we trust? It can be hard to tell the difference – because few (no) people reading this will be neuroscientists.
Here are five questions to ask before believing all you read/hear:
1. Who’s behind the research?
Take a look at the research cited and check if it stands up to scrutiny. This includes checking the name of the researcher and the organisation behind it. As a general rule, if it’s from a university or other scientific institution, it will have been peer-reviewed and can be trusted; likewise, if the lead researcher has published other peer-reviewed papers and been cited elsewhere, it usually passes the test.
2. What’s the reason for the research?
Why was the research conducted? Is there a hidden agenda or a vested interest behind it? There are many cases of medical research by pharmaceutical companies, for instance, where the purpose of the research is clearly to promote a certain product. While this is far less common in the field of neuroscience, it’s important to understand the purpose of the research to rule out bias – especially as corporate business becomes more involved in the field.
3. When was the research published?
Neuroscience as a field is rapidly evolving. Just because a piece of research was performed 15 years ago doesn’t necessarily negate its importance – but has it been superseded by more recent work? It’s important to make sure that you are not regurgitating information that has since been disproven – there are many neuroscience ‘myths’ that are perpetuated despite evidence proving them to be false (left brain/right brain myths for instance).
4. Are the conclusions realistic?
Any articles referring to ‘breakthrough research’ and then claiming to be the ‘next big thing’ about brain science should be treated with caution. Neuroscience is relatively new and notoriously complex. Definitive conclusions are hard to draw – because new things are always being discovered that disprove what was previously held to be true. It’s all part of a complex puzzle that scientists are just beginning to piece together. There are no definitive single answers to how we think!
5. Who’s interpreting the results?
Most of the information we glean about neuroscience will not be from directly reading the research papers. It will be second-hand, through people who are interpreting the information. We will probably pick it up from a blog post or other article. So, when research is referred to, check who is interpreting it. There is a chance that they are over-playing the results or misunderstanding them. This will lead to wrong conclusions and applications of the science. Get your information from reliable and reputable sources.