Sunday, March 7, 2010

Neuron Envy

In the article Do psychologists have 'neuron envy' a staff member from Monitor on Psychology interviews Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, discussing how neuroscience seems to be creeping into the field of psychology, and according to Ramachandran, why that's a good thing.

According to Ramachandran, neuroscience makes psychology more scientific, more reliable, and with more predictive power. There are questions that are always asked but can never seem to be answered, neuroscience brings us closer to the answers to those questions. Ramachandran uses the example of empathy; psychology has found that you empathize with the people that you like, and you don't empathize with those that you don't like. Autism may be caused by a lack of empathy neurons, explaining some of the symptoms of autism. People who are autistic have trouble pretending to put themselves in another's shoes, and they lack emotional empathy in social interactions. All of these symptoms can be explained in terms of mirror neurons. In this case, the addition of neuroscience research complements the understanding of the psychology of autism.

When watching the video on Ramachandran in class, I was impressed with his discoveries. I think part of that had to do with how well his ideas were explained, and the addition of images of models of the brain. What he was describing really made sense to me when I saw the area of the brain that he was talking about. I think that is part of the reason why neuroscience is so important to psychology. Ramachandran comes up with a hypotheses based on the information gathered by talking withe people, observing them, and doing various tests with them. But it all comes down to the brain images to prove that his hypothesis was correct, and to make it understandable.

Neuroscience fails to help psychology when it isn't producing images of the brain without a coherent and intelligent hypothesis behind them. In other words, psychology and neuroscience work best when done side by side. In the interview, Ramachandran says; "Through neuroscience, we are going to have explanations, deeper explanations with far-reaching consequences, of phenomena like empathy, self-awareness and language."

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