A team of researchers analyzed a number of studies in social cognitive neuroscience. (SCN looks at such social factors as emotions, judgment, rejection, attitudes, and decisions, all important to conflict resolution, of course.) The team found that many of the findings of highly publicized studies are implausible. From Mind Hacks:
Social cognitive neuroscience is a hot new area and many of the headline studies use fMRI brain imaging to look at how activity in the brain is correlated with social decision-making or perception.
This new analysis, led by neuroscientist Edward Vul, was inspired by the fact that some of these correlations seem to good to be true, and so the research team investigated. ...[I]t's powerful stuff - indicating that many of the results are due to flawed analyses.
...[T]his new paper has the potential to really shake up the world of social cognitive neuroscience.
I am sure there will be much coverage of this paper. The blogosphere is already seeing posts about it (e.g., Social Cognitive Neuroscience takes one on the chin (Psychology in Action). I will write more soon but wanted to give you an opportunity to read the paper right away. Here's a pdf of "Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience."
Note (added January 14, 2009, 8:30 AM Mountain): A response to this paper will be published along with it. From BPS Research Digest:
Matthew Lieberman, a co-author on Eisenberger's social rejection study, told us that he and his colleagues have drafted a robust reply to these methodological accusations, which will be published in Perspectives on Psychological Science alongside the Pashler paper. In particular he stressed that concerns over multiple comparisons in fMRI research are not new, are not specific to social neuroscience, and that the methodological approach of the Pashler group, done correctly, would lead to similar results to those already published. "There are numerous errors in their handling of the data that they reanalyzed," he argued. "While trying to recreate their [most damning] Figure 5, we went through and pulled all the correlations from all the papers. We found around 50 correlations that were clearly in the papers Pashler's team reviewed but were not included in their analyses. Almost all of these overlooked correlations tend to work against their hypotheses."
Added 9AM Mountain: Response from four other neuroscientists. Summary information for the press [pdf].
Added January 15, 2009, Noon Mountain: At Mind Hacks, a summary of the back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth) between the neuroscientists. As you will see more has been said; links included at this Mind Hack post.
Added January 18, 2009, 9AM Mountain: "Doubts raised over brain scan findings" (New Scientist).
Added February 17, 2009, 5 PM Mountain: Related article in Scientific American, an interview of Lieberman.
Added April 11, 2009, 12:32 PM Mountain: The "voodoo" paper's title has been changed and will now be “Puzzlingly High Correlations in fMRI Studies of Emotion, Personality, and Social Cognition.” Read more about the title change in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Added April 27, 2009: A new article criticizing neuroscience research: "Circular analysis in systems neuroscience: the dangers of double dipping" [abstract] (Nature Neuroscience). More about both articles from Neuroskeptic: More Brain Voodoo, and This Time, It's Not Just fMRI.