The Selective Allure of Neuroscientific Explanations

PLoS One 9(9), September 2014

6 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2014 Last revised: 4 Oct 2014

See all articles by Nicholas Scurich

Nicholas Scurich

University of California, Irvine

Adam B. Shniderman

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: September 10, 2014


Some claim that recent advances in neuroscience will revolutionize the way we think about human nature and legal culpability. Empirical support for this proposition is mixed. Two highly-cited empirical studies found that irrelevant neuroscientific explanations and neuroimages were highly persuasive to laypersons. However, attempts to replicate these effects have largely been unsuccessful. Two separate experiments tested the hypothesis that neuroscience is susceptible to motivated reasoning, which refers to the tendency to selectively credit or discredit information in a manner that reinforces preexisting beliefs. Participants read a newspaper article about a cutting-edge neuroscience study. Consistent with the hypothesis, participants deemed the hypothetical study sound and the neuroscience persuasive when the outcome of the study was congruent with their prior beliefs, but gave the identical study and neuroscience negative evaluations when it frustrated their beliefs. Neuroscience, it appears, is subject to the same sort of cognitive dynamics as other types of scientific evidence. These findings qualify claims that neuroscience will play a qualitatively different role in the way in which it shapes people’s beliefs and informs issues of social policy.

Keywords: Neuroscience, Motivated Reasoning, Evidence, Psychology

Suggested Citation

Scurich, Nicholas and Shniderman, Adam B., The Selective Allure of Neuroscientific Explanations (September 10, 2014). PLoS One 9(9), September 2014. Available at SSRN:

Nicholas Scurich (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

Adam B. Shniderman

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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