Irrelevant Neuroscience Jargon Increases Persuasiveness

The addi­tion of “irrel­ev­ant talk about neur­os­cience” makes a pre­vi­ously bad psy­cho­lo­gic­al explan­a­tion much more per­suas­ive and accept­able.

Luck­ily experts are not fooled by this addi­tion of spuri­ous neur­os­cience, but as an in-depth look at the study shows, almost all non-experts (includ­ing neur­os­cience stu­dents) are fooled and per­suaded by the addi­tion of logic­ally irrel­ev­ant neur­os­cience jar­gon to an argu­ment:

Explan­a­tions of psy­cho­lo­gic­al phe­nom­ena seem to gen­er­ate more pub­lic interest when they con­tain neur­os­cientif­ic inform­a­tion. Even irrel­ev­ant neur­os­cience inform­a­tion in an explan­a­tion of a psy­cho­lo­gic­al phe­nomen­on may inter­fere with people’s abil­it­ies to crit­ic­ally con­sider the under­ly­ing logic of this explan­a­tion. We tested this hypo­thes­is by giv­ing naïve adults, stu­dents in a neur­os­cience course, and neur­os­cience experts brief descrip­tions of psy­cho­lo­gic­al phe­nom­ena fol­lowed by one of four types of explan­a­tion, accord­ing to a 2 (good explan­a­tion vs. bad explan­a­tion) x 2 (without neur­os­cience vs. with neur­os­cience) design. Cru­cially, the neur­os­cience inform­a­tion was irrel­ev­ant to the logic of the explan­a­tion, as con­firmed by the expert sub­jects. Sub­jects in all three groups judged good explan­a­tions as more sat­is­fy­ing than bad ones. But sub­jects in the two non-expert groups addi­tion­ally judged that explan­a­tions with logic­ally irrel­ev­ant neur­os­cience inform­a­tion were more sat­is­fy­ing than explan­a­tions without.

I first heard of this four-year-old study in Ben Gol­dacre’s Bad Sci­ence; a book I men­tion often, and for good reas­on.

via @finiteattention