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ambiguous reality of interconnected and distributed processes. We also need to be aware that even when the pictures of the brain that accompany these articles are relevant they may not be helpful. Recent research by Eklund, Nichols and Knutsson5

has suggested that much

of the fMRI research in the past has been plagued by significant amounts of “false positive” readings by the soft- ware – in other words, the areas of the brain that are shown as being active may not actually be active after all! So what does this mean for us in the development world? Primarily, we need to beware of uncritically accepting the latest claims – particularly when they are accompanied by neuro-babble and/ or colourful and persuasive pictures of parts of the brain “lighting up” when

being asked to perform particular tasks or study particular things. I was recently passed a paper

by a well-meaning colleague that fell into both of these traps – it was essentially a glossy repackaging of existing understanding of a basic development concept (the learning cycle) that had added neuroscientific language and a pretty picture of the brain. Compare the following:

Gather sensory experi- ences through the sensory cortices, engage in reflective observation, drawing on the temporal lobe, create new concepts in the prefrontal cortex and actively test through our motor cortices.6

Gather sensory experiences, engage in reflec- tive observation, create new concepts and actively test.

Removing the neuroscientific language from the quote on the left does not in any way alter the

information content or the usefulness of the summary – but does make it feel less new and less up-to-date. To the uncritical eye, however, it can look and feel like a breakthrough – or at very least a significant advancement – in understanding. When presented with similar information we should be careful to strip out the neuroscience (if we can) to see whether the underlying argument makes sense or adds to what we already know.

More mundane (but equally dangerous) neuromyths

While the colourful images of fMRI scans are perhaps the most obvious neuromyths that we need to be aware of, there are other areas of psychology of which development professionals need to keep abreast. From memory to motivation there are many fields

26 | May 2017 |


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