“… caverns measureless to man…”*

*from “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, completed in 1797 and published in 1816.

Sally Satel is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a visiting professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Scott O. Lilienfeld is the Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of psychology at Emory University.

They wrote in the National Review in August this year:

“…Most of our preferences and prejudices probably lie outside of our awareness, or at least are very rapidly activated as we appraise new people and situations. This is why the detection of hidden attitudes, using a probe called the Implicit Association Test (IAT), strikes many as so compelling: It supposedly identifies a person’s prejudices no matter how sincerely she disavows it.

Indeed, the IAT, developed by psychologists in 1998, has become one of the most famous psychological instruments to emerge since the iconic Rorschach inkblot test. And as with the Rorschach, its scientific foundations are at best controversial and, in the eyes of many psychological researchers, weak…

Last year, a major mathematical synthesis of the literature examined 492 race-IAT studies (including 87,418 participants) and found that test scores weakly measure the propensity to discriminate — a finding consistent with other meta-analyses. “It is difficult to find a psychological construct that is so popular yet so misunderstood and lacking in theoretical and practical payoff,” concluded psychologists Gregory Mitchell and Philip Tetlock in an overview…

If psychology is needed to inform police practice, implicit-bias training is not a promising strategy. Instead, reformers need to capitalize on the long-confirmed truth that the best way to change behavior is by changing the consequences of such behavior, not by trying to change attitudes. In short, make it difficult to be a bad cop…

Along these lines, many have urged reforming police-union contracts to lower barriers to firing officers with documented histories of bad behavior. The officer who killed Mr. Floyd, for example, was named in at least 17 complaints, with action reportedly taken only once (a reprimand and possibly a suspension), after a 2007 incident…”

Sally Satel and Scott O Lilienfeld wrote in The Observer of 30 Jun 2013:

“…As a tool for exploring the biology of the mind, neuroimaging has given brain science a strong cultural presence. As one scientist remarked, brain images are now “replacing Bohr’s planetary atom as the symbol of science”…

University press offices are notorious for touting sensational details in their media-friendly releases: here’s a spot that lights up when subjects think of God (“Religion centre found!”) or researchers find a region for love (“Love found in the brain”). Neuroscientists themselves sometimes refer disparagingly to these studies as “blobology”, their tongue-in-cheek label for studies that show which brain areas become activated as subjects experience x or perform y task.

Skilled science journalists cringe when they read accounts claiming that scans can capture the mind itself in action. Serious science writers take pains to describe quality neuroscience research accurately. Indeed, an eddy of discontent is forming. “Neuromania”, “neurohubris” and “neurohype” – “neuro-bollocks”, if you’re a Brit – are just some of the labels that have been bandied about, sometimes by frustrated neuroscientists themselves…

the fact that addiction is associated with neurobiological changes is not, in itself, proof that the addict is unable to choose. Just look at American actor Robert Downey Jr. He was once a poster boy for drug excess. “It’s like I have a loaded gun in my mouth and my finger’s on the trigger, and I like the taste of gunmetal,” he said. It seemed only a matter of time before he’d meet a horrible end. But Downey Jr entered rehab and decided to change his life. Why did Robert Downey Jr use drugs? Why did he decide to stop and to remain clean and sober? An examination of the brain, no matter how sophisticated, cannot tell us that at this time, and probably never will. The key problem with neurocentrism is that it devalues the importance of psychological explanations and environmental factors, such as familial chaos, stress and widespread access to drugs in sustaining addiction…

…As one cognitive psychologist quipped: “Unable to persuade others about your viewpoint? Take a Neuro-Prefix – influence grows or your money back.”…

The neurobiological domain is one of brains and physical causes; the psychological domain is one of people and their motives. Both are essential to a full understanding of why we act as we do. But the brain and the mind are different frameworks for explaining human experience. And the distinction between them is hardly an academic matter: it bears crucial implications for how we think about human nature, as well as how to best alleviate human suffering.”

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