Tuesday, 28 February 2017


Neuro-ideology on road  

[Neuro-] myths are a drain on time and money, and it is important to explore and expose them. So which popular neuromyths exist in schools and how did they catch on?


Such things cannot be said too often. Underneath, however, still lies the great unspoken darkness of biological determination, holding pervasive ideological hegemony over our society's understanding of what it is that forms  our humanity.

Amongst other ills, this ideology brings with it the assumption that motor disorders are physical (biological) in their essence, and consequently in their 'treatment' too (and don't forget its hegemony within psychiatry and 'mental illness' too, never mind the ordinary circumstances of developing childhood and education).

Oliver Sacks spoke of –

...the stultifying phrenological neurology... [that] could be replaced by the wonderful notion of functional systems with different components.

Phrenology was an earlier science of cerebral localisation, as illustrated by the picture above borrowed from the article in the Guardian. We are all too sophisticated nowadays to thing anything of the sort – aren't we? Are we sure?

Sunday's posting on Oliver Sacks and A. R. Luriya related to this:

The Guardian's report provided classic empirical (psychological) demonstrations of a wider something in operation.

Because it is unlikely that the popularity of neuroscience findings in the public sphere will wane any time soon, we see in the current results more reasons for caution when applying neuroscientific findings to social issues. Even if expert practitioners can easily distinguish good neuroscience explanations from bad, they must not assume that those outside the discipline will be as discriminating.

The use of brain images to represent the level of brain activity associated with cognitive processes influenced ratings of the scientific merit of the reported research, compared to identical articles including no image, a bar graph, or a topographical map. This effect occurred for fictional articles that included errors in the scientific reasoning in the articles, and in a real article in which there were no such errors. The present results lend support to the oft mentioned notion that there is something particularly persuasive about brain images with respect to conferring credibility to cognitive neuroscience data.

I myself, having long given up on being a psychologist, find an ideology-based explanation sufficient for everyday practical purposes.

Either way, Conductive Education offers a powerful demonstration of a quite contrary (pedagogic) model in operation. Its substantive benefits aside, the essence of the practice of Conductive Education should be defended, protected, treasured, for this wider social purpose too.

At the very least sound a caution next time you are presented with neuro-assertions concerning Conductive Education – or, worse, you are tempted yourself to express some of your own.


Bradley, B. et al. (2017) Four neuromyths that are still prevalent in schools – debunked, Guardian, 24 February

McCabe, D. P. (2008) Seeing is believing: the effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning, Cognition, vol. 107 , pp. 343–352

Weisberg, D. S. (2008) The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, vol. 20, no 3, pp. 470-477

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