How to Win your Next Argument (According to Neuroscience)

Sara Hodges, the Graduate School’s Associate Dean and UO Psychology Professor, knows how you can win your next argument: by citing meaningless neurobabble.

In a new study, “Superfluous neuroscience information makes explanations of psychological phenomena more appealing" which is first-authored by UO Psychology PhD alumnus Diego Fernandez-Duque and co-authored by current UO Psychology PhD student Colton Christian, the researchers discovered that the allure of neuroscience information (even if irrelevant) creates a bias during an explanation of psychological phenomena.

Hodges and her colleagues presented students with a variety of explanations for various quirks of human behavior from social sciences (e.g., social psychology), neuroscience, and the “hard sciences” (e.g., physics). Then each student rated how convincing they found each explanation.

The results were interesting. The researchers found that explanations from neuroscience were far more convincing to participants than information from any other field, even taking into account individual differences in participants' levels of analytical thinking or beliefs in free will or dualism.

Hodges spoke to Christian Jarrett, psychologist and Science of Us contributor, in his latest podcast episode “Psych Crunch” after her research was published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Hodges explained that “the social sciences would refer to something about how people were raised, and the hard-science explanation referred to changes in DNA, the structure of DNA. ” Even when the neuroscience explanations were circular, not really explaining anything at all, “neuroscience explanations always came out on top — better than no explanation, better than social science, better than the [any other] hard science.”

So the next time you feel in danger of losing an argument? Just make an obscure or irrelevant neuroscience reference to turn the tide in your favor. 

Adapted from a Science of Us article titled “Win Your Next Argument by Citing Meaningless Neurobable”.

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