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