As I may have mentioned in some of my prior posts, my work on pain will involve some historical and conceptual research regarding the import of the visible in Western biomedicine and Western culture in general. Why is it that "seeing" into the inner sanctum of the body is so powerful, so important? And it is almost impossible to deny that this sight is of inordinate social and cultural significance.
Jean Jackson documents that pain which is visible -- like pain arising from a compound fracture resulting from an automobile accident -- is generally treated better, and is seen as morally superior (more "deserving" pain) than pain that is invisible via diagnostic instrumentation, such as chronic pain. Chronic pain patients report the highest levels of hostility and social distance from their healers and physicians, and are on the bottom of the moral hierarchy Jackson constructs. And in no small part, I want to argue, this is because it is, in fact, invisible to the scientific Eye/I.
Further proof of the cultural importance of the visible is evident in the history of roentgenology. In a working paper that will likely become part of my dissertation, I document how dozens of early roentgenologists suffered and died for the sake of seeing inside the body. I reference the paper in this commentary, which suggests that memory fingerprinting technology should not be admissible evidence because of the likelihood of undue prejudice. In turn, the likelihood of such prejudice is a function of the weight and importance attached to scientific images of the body, and in particular, of the brain.
I was therefore pleased to learn of a new study entitled, "Seeing is believing: On the effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning." Note the authors' conclusion that neuroimaging appeals to the tendency to prefer "reductionistic explanations of cognitive phenomena."
Here is the Abstract:
Brain images are believed to have a particularly persuasive influence on the public perception of research on cognition. Three experiments are reported showing that presenting brain images with articles summarizing cognitive neuroscience research resulted in higher ratings of scientific reasoning for arguments made in those articles, as compared to articles accompanied by bar graphs, a topographical map of brain activation, or no image. These data lend support to the notion that part of the fascination, and the credibility, of brain imaging research lies in the persuasive power of the actual brain images themselves. We argue that brain images are influential because they provide a physical basis for abstract cognitive processes, appealing to people’s affinity for reductionistic explanations of cognitive phenomena.
(h/t to Stuart Buck at Overcoming Bias)