New Scientist refers to a recent review by Hal Pashler and co at the University of California, San Diego of 50 neuroscience papers which try to claim areas of the brain to specific emotions and behaviours.
Pashler and co suggest that the method used to identify these kind of links inflates the probability of them being more than noise in data...
Nice provocative language like "voodoo correlations"
At the heart of the matter is the problem of using the same scan to both:
i. identify brain regions in which the correlation between voxels and the emotion being considered is above expected levels
ii. assess the strenght of the correlation
It's not yet clear how much published work in modern neuroscience falls prey to this error, but
As the wise owls of NS put it:
"It is two centuries since the birth of Charles Darwin, but even now his advice can be spot on. The great man attempted a little neuroscience in The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals, published in 1872, in which he discussed the link between facial expressions and the brain. "Our present subject is very obscure," Darwin warned in his book, "and it is always advisable to perceive clearly our ignorance." Modern-day neuroscience might benefit from adopting a similar stance."
So next time you some vendor or other promises to offer you neuro-economics, neuro-marketing or neuro-anything, and talks about specific parts of the brain "lighting up" ask their basic claims are based on Pashler-proof methodology?
Hey but I always loved space-age stuff