The brain seduction: the public perception of neuroscience



The increasing number of magazine covers dedicated to brain studies and the success of magazines and scientific journals entirely dedicated to brain and mind indicate a strong interest on these themes. This interest is clearly surpassing the boundaries of scientific and medical researches and applications and underlines an engagement of the general public, too. This phenomenon appears to be enhanced by the increasing number of basic researches focusing on non-health-related fMRI studies, investigating aspects of personality as emotions, will, personal values and beliefs, self-identity and behaviour. The broad coverage by the media raises some central questions related to the complexity of researches, the intrinsic limits of these technologies, the results’ interpretative boundaries, factors which are crucial to properly understand the studies’ value. In case of an incomplete communication, if those fundamental interpretative elements are not well understood, we could register a misinterpretation in the public perception of the studies that opens new compelling questions. As already observed in the past debates on science and technologies applications, in this case, too, we assist to a communicative problem that set against scientific community on one side and media, on the other. Focusing our attention, in particular, on the debate on fMRI, taken as a good model, in the present letter we will investigate the most interesting aspects of the current discussion on neuroscience and neuroscience public perception. This analysis was performed as one of the bid - brains in dialogue - activities (www.neuromedia.eu). bid is a three year project supported by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Program and coordinated by Sissa, the International School for Advanced Studies of Trieste, aimed at fostering dialogue between science and society on the new challenges coming from neuroscience.