American Association for the Advancement of Science
2005 Annual Meeting Session Abstract

TRACK:
Mind, Brain & Behavior
TITLE:
Brain Imaging and the "Cognitive Paparazzi": Viewing Snapshots of Mental Life Out of Context
DATE:
Sunday, February 20, 2005
TIME:
1:45 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.
ORGANIZERS:
Susan Fitzpatrick, James S. McDonnell Foundation; Ellen Landers, James S. McDonnell Foundation
 
PARTICIPANTS:   * = invited, not yet confirmed.
Ellen Landers (Moderator), James S. McDonnell Foundation
Bettyann Kevles (Speaker), Yale School of Medicine
Body Visions: Art as Medicine
Marc Raichle (Speaker), Washington University School of Medicine
A History of Neuroimaging
Liz Phelps (Speaker), New York University
The Use of Neuroimaging to Inform Social Issues
Joseph Dumit (Speaker), Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Brain Scans as Pictures of Personhood?
Frank Keil (Speaker), Yale University
Seeing is Believing (Unfortunately): Illusions of Explanatory Depth
Susan Fitzpatrick (Discussant), James S. McDonnell Foundation

AVAILABLE ABSTRACTS:
Seeing is Believing (Unfortunately): Illusions of Explanatory Depth
The Use of Neuroimaging to Inform Social Issues
Brain Scans as Pictures of Personhood?
Body Visions: Art as Medicine
SYNOPSIS:
We are bombarded in the science pages of daily newspapers and the health sections of popular magazines with articles describing how brain imaging is uncovering the secret truths of our cognitive and emotional lives. Accompanying these articles are brightly colored "brain images" depicting our minds "at work"--feeling, thinking, learning, imagining. Something about these images (their interpretive accessibility? their visual attractiveness?) gives the impression that they are able to reveal aspects of our true selves that other (less accessible? less attractive?) forms of data presentation do not. While recent advances in our ability to obtain images of the human brain in vivo using noninvasive tools such as Positron-Emission Tomography (PET), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and Functional MRI (fMRI) have revolutionized our investigation of cognitive processes, the intuitive power we feel in interpreting brain imaging's style of visual data presentation has also produced its share of over-simplified, somewhat fanciful, and often highly misleading accounts of what such images tell us about our brains--and ourselves. A folk psychological misconception reinforced by the current popular perception of brain images is that measurements of brain activity are "real" whereas observations of mental activity are not. We seem comforted by the notion that behavior is the manifestation of activity in our brains rather than of, and separable from, our minds. Some of the questions to be addressed in this session include the following: When did imaging go from being a tool in the service of answering important questions to being the tool used to determine the importance of the questions themselves? What do we really know about the interface between the image and the data used to assemble it? What impact has imaging had on not only the popular imagination and the press, but on scientists and the questions they choose to investigate and the theories they choose to endorse? Historically, what role has the visual presentation of complex data played in our objective interpretation of the science behind the image?