Neuroimaging—is it voodoo, new phrenology, or scientific breakthrough? See what the experts have to say in this special section on fMRI in Perspectives on Psychological Science
In response to the widespread interest following the publication of Vul et al (2009), Perspectives Editor Ed Diener invited researchers to contribute articles for a special section on fMRI, discussing the promises and issues facing neuroimaging.
Gregory A. Miller
Scientists tend to consider psychology-biology relationships in two distinct ways: by assuming that psychological phenomena can be fully explained in terms of biological events and by treating them as if they exist in separate realms. These approaches hold up scientific progress and have important implications for clinical practice and policy decisions (e.g., allocating research funds).
Brian D. Gonsalves and Neal J. Cohen
The growth of neuroimaging research has led to reflection on what those techniques can actually tell us about cognitive processes. When used in combination with other cognitive neuroscience methods, neuroimaging has promise for making important advancements. For example, neuroimaging studies on memory have raised questions not only about the regions involved with memory but also about component cognitive processes (e.g., the role of different attention subsystems in memory retrieval), and this has resulted in more theorizing about the interactions of memory and attention.
Russell A. Poldrack
To understand the anatomy of mental functions, researchers may to need to move away from commonly used brain mapping strategies and begin searching for selective associations. This will require more emphasis on the structure of cognitive processes, which may be achieved through development of formal ontologies (e.g., the Cognitive Atlas) that will describe the “parts” and processes of the mind. Using these ontologies in combination with large-scale data mining approaches may more directly relate mental processes and brain function.
Diane M. Beck
Why do people like the brain so much? Brain-related articles in the press, especially ones about fMRI research, tend to be very popular with the general public, but many of these articles may result in misinterpretations of the science. Part of the popularity may be attributed to their deceptively simple message: Perform an action and a certain area lights up. In addition, people are more confident in “biological” images than in the behavioral phenomena on which the images are based. In order to maintain trust with the public, scientists have a responsibility to provide the press with descriptions of research and interpretations of results research that are clear, relevant, and scientifically accurate.
Jean Decety and John Cacioppo
The development of neuroimaging has created an opportunity to address old questions about brain function and behavior in new ways and also to uncover new questions. The knowledge that emerges from neuroimaging studies is more likely to be beneficial when combined with techniques and analyses that break down complex constructs into structures and processes, measures that gauge neural events across different times, and animal studies.
Arthur P. Shimamura
The advent of functional neuroimaging has brought both praise and criticism to the field of psychological science. Although most studies relying on fMRI are correlative, they do offer some clues about the biology underlying psychological processes. However, it is not sufficient to show which area of the brain is involved in a particular cognitive process; rather theories need to address “how?” questions (e.g., How does the hippocampus contribute to remembering?) in order to best bridge psychological and biological science.