More junk science below. The junkiness is a bit subtle, however, so I will cover it in a footnote. Excerpt:
They found a way to interpret “real time” brain images to show whether people who viewed messages about using sunscreen would actually use sunscreen during the following week.
The scans were more accurate than the volunteers were, Emily Falk and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.
But with functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, Falk and colleagues were able to go beyond good intentions to predict actual behavior.
FMRI uses a magnetic field to measure blood flow in the brain. It can show which brain regions are more active compared to others, but requires careful interpretation.
Falk’s team recruited 20 young men and women for their experiment. While in the fMRI scanner they read and listened to messages about the safe use of sunscreen, mixed in with other messages so they would not guess what the experiment was about.
“On day one of the experiment, before the scanning session, each participant indicated their sunscreen use over the prior week, their intentions to use sunscreen in the next week and their attitudes toward sunscreen,” the researchers wrote.
After they saw the messages, the volunteers answered more questions about their intentions, and then got a goody bag that contained, among other things, sunscreen towelettes.” “A week later we did a surprise follow up to find out whether they had used sunscreen,” Falk said in a telephone interview.
About half the volunteers had correctly predicted whether they would use sunscreen. The research team analyzed and re-analyzed the MRI scans to see if they could find any brain activity that would do better.
Activity in one area of the brain, a particular part of the medial prefrontal cortex, provided the best information. “From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do,” Lieberman said.
“It is the one region of the prefrontal cortex that we know is disproportionately larger in humans than in other primates,” he added. “This region is associated with self-awareness, and seems to be critical for thinking about yourself and thinking about your preferences and values.”
More HERE. The journal article appears to be Predicting Persuasion-Induced Behavior Change from the Brain
Note this sentence: “The research team analyzed and re-analyzed the MRI scans to see if they could find any brain activity that would do better”.
That is known as data dredging. If you examine enough potential relationships, one will appear high by chance alone. To counter that, the experimenters should have used an experiment-wise error rate approach to evaluate their conclusions. They do not appear to have done that so their findings are by default explainable as a chance occurrence.
They tried to cover themselves by saying that the brain area they finally used was of “a priori interest” but if that were so they would have examined that area alone. Making up theory after the event is easy
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