Does Neuroscience Explain Everything? A Review of "Pop Neuroscience Is Bunk!"

I read an article the other day that talked about the fallacies in neuroscientific research. I don't consider to be a highly credible source, but for the most part, I agreed with the article. Neuroscientific studies should not be used to examine political views or certain emotional states; however, I disagree with the author when he says, "The fad has, perhaps not surprisingly, infiltrated the parenting and education markets, too". Maybe this author hasn't read enough research in this area.

Before I continue, for the lay reader, you should understand how neuroscientists/psychologists learn about the brain. They use what is called a functional MRI or fMRI. Unlike the MRI that hospitals use, the fMRI looks at increased blood flow in areas of the brain when participants are engated in an activity or function. The areas of increased blood flow can help neuroscientists/psychologists to make correlations of activities and skill level with strengths already known about the brain.

I spoke about the video I had seen of Dan Levitin's interview and study of Sting in my last blog. Sting claimed he was a perpetual learner, and when his brain was scanned while participating in various musical activities, it showed activity in both hemispheres. There was a connection between the two hemispheres. Levitin had done past studies in this area and had seen that people who had studied music from an early age also showed activity in both hemispheres. Those who had not studied music from an early age did not show the connection between hemispheres or activity in both hemispheres when participating in the same musical activities. Given what we already know about the brain - the left side of the brain is the analytical side and the right side is the creative side - it would make sense to say that we can correlate music with improved brain function and increased learning skills. This improvement is best known in the neuroscience world as neuroplasticity.

Second, one of my favorite neuroscientist and educator, Judy Willis, first observed students with assumed learning disorders as a neurologist. She followed up on those observations with what she knew about neurology. What she discovered was that many of the students who were sent to her for a learning disorder diagnosis were simply did not know how to learn.

She explains, "the prefrontal cortex is the last part of the human brain to mature and is the control center executive functions such as judgment, critical analysis, prioritizing, deduction, induction, imagination, communication, goal development, planning and perseverance". She further explains that the prefrontal cortex is conscious because it completes specific actions. Unlike the small prefrontal cortex, all the other areas of the brain are seen as the reactive brain, and it is the unconscious. Because we already know this as in research has shown how different areas of the brain work, neuroscientists/psychologists can and should explore how learning occurs.

For Judy, she has discovered that once a student becomes interested in a subject, that interest or passion connects the reactive brain to prefrontal cortex. The opposite of interest or passion is stress, explains Judy, and that stress will prevent information passing from the reactive brain to the prefrontal cortex, therefore preventing learning from taking place.

Judy admits that there are some studies that provide misguided information about improved academic performance, but these studies should not be overemphasized by the media or take priority over the more quality studies which really look at the basics of plasticity and academic performance.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment here or tweet me. Unfortunately, my email is not currently working, but I hope to have that resolved next month.
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