BRAINWASHED by Sally Satel


The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience
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Psychiatrist Satel (Yale Univ. School of Medicine; When Altruism Isn't Enough: The Case for Compensating Kidney Donors, 2009, etc.) and psychologist Lilienfeld (Psychology/Emory Univ.; co-editor: Case Studies in Clinical Psychology, 2013, etc.) take up the cudgels against what they call “neurocentrism.”

The authors debunk the proliferation of disciplines (e.g., “neurolaw,” “neuropolitics” and “neurotheology”) that have recently spawned, rejecting “the view that human experience and behavior can be best explained from the predominant or even exclusive perspective of the brain.” In their view, this approach is not only facile but mechanistic, and it overlooks the cultural and psychological determinants of human behavior and dismisses the notion of free will. The authors warn that this has crucial implications for the prosecution of crime. In the future, if brain scans are deemed sufficient to determine the predilection to violence, this raises the specter of preventative detention and calls into question criminal law and the relevance of premeditation. Satel and Lilienfeld provide an overview of the development of brain scans over the past 100 years, explaining why the inference that modern scanning devices such as the fMRI can reveal consumer preferences is exaggerated. What is shown is the activation of areas in the brain; the rest is pure inference. The authors also question the brain-disease model of addiction, citing the experience of soldiers who used heroin in Vietnam but routinely detoxed in order to be discharged. They explain that their purpose is not to critique the exciting technological advances of neuroscience but rather their misapplication, and they take exception to the “assumption that the brain is the only important level of analysis for understanding human behavior, and that the mind—the psychological products of brain activity—is more or less expendable.”

A valuable contribution to the neuroscience bookshelf.

Pub Date: June 4th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-465-01877-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2013


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