Molly Crockett on Our Susceptibility to Bullshit

We are not the logical, rational, thought-filled creatures we like to pretend we are. We are prone to misdirection, to being led up the garden path, to being taken for a ride.

Molly Crockett, a neuroscientist focusing on judgment and morality. In her 2012 TED Talk she illustrates some of the “neuro-bunk,” a particular type pf bullshit that makes use of science and psychology (quotes below):

Here’s a study published by a team of researchers as an op-ed in The New York Times. The headline? “You Love Your iPhone. Literally.”

So how’d they figure this out? They put 16 people inside a brain scanner and showed them videos of ringing iPhones. The brain scans showed activation in a part of the brain called the insula, a region they say is linked to feelings of love and compassion. So they concluded that because they saw activation in the insula, this meant the subjects loved their iPhones. Now there’s just one problem with this line of reasoning, and that’s that the insula does a lot. Sure, it is involved in positive emotions like love and compassion, but it’s also involved in tons of other processes, like memory, language, attention, even anger, disgust and pain. So based on the same logic, I could equally conclude you hate your iPhone.

…there’s a researcher, known to some as Dr. Love, who claims that scientists have found the glue that holds society together, the source of love and prosperity. This time it’s not a cheese sandwich. No, it’s a hormone called oxytocin. You’ve probably heard of it. So, Dr. Love bases his argument on studies showing that when you boost people’s oxytocin, this increases their trust, empathy and cooperation. So he’s calling oxytocin “the moral molecule.”

Now these studies are scientifically valid, and they’ve been replicated, but they’re not the whole story.Other studies have shown that boosting oxytocin increases envy. It increases gloating. Oxytocin can bias people to favor their own group at the expense of other groups. And in some cases, oxytocin can even decrease cooperation. So based on these studies, I could say oxytocin is an immoral molecule, and call myself Dr. Strangelove.



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