Hi! It's me. Your conflict resolution curmudgeon back again this spring Monday morn to talk with conflict professionals (and their clients) about misguided use of neuroscience. Today I point you to two articles about the faulty application of brain science in education. As you will see, the warnings and criticisms may also apply to dispute resolution. In fact, I believe the cautionary words would apply even more to dispute resolution because there has been less of an attempt by conflict professionals to verify the validity and efficacy of their transfer of the science to practice than there has been by teachers.
From "Experts Call for Teaching Educators Brain Science" (Education Week - subscription required):
A little knowledge about the brain can be a dangerous thing, and experts in mind, brain, and education studies are calling for more formal teacher training in the biological underpinnings of learning.
I am seeing that the danger of a little knowledge is true in other fields too, including conflict resolution. How about you?
"We don't have much neuroscience in our teacher training; most of the books available are from the brain-based-learning industry, not scientists," said Paul A. Howard-Jones, a senior lecturer in psychology and neuroscience at the University of Bristol, in the United Kingdom, and the director of Neuroeducation.net, a site that analyzes new research for teachers. "In the absence of legitimate neuroscience in education," he said, "a neuro-mythology has arisen in schools."
Yep, and mediation is developing its own set of neuromyths, too.
From "Scientists Find Learning Is Not 'Hard-Wired'" (Education Week):
[C]onception of how the brain works, exacerbated by the difficulty in translating research from lab to classroom, spawned a generation of neuro-myths and snake-oil pitches—from programs to improve cross-hemisphere brain communication to teaching practices aimed at "auditory" or "visual" learners.
Therein lies one of the big problems: the difficulty in translating research from lab to mediation. Is blithe guessing and heedless stretching irresponsible?
"All of our outcome measures, the things we are hoping to see, are not neurological changes; they are behavioral changes," explained Daniel T. Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. "We don't measure how are your dendritic connections, we measure how well you can read.
"Trying to leverage behavioral science [for education] is complicated enough," he said. "For neuroscience to get into the mix, we have translation problems. The more distant you get from the level of the classroom, the less likely [the research] is to make a difference in the classroom."
Neuroscience can be so compelling and so impressive. We need to resist seduction by the irrelevant.
One 2011 Arizona State University study asked 267 preservice and active teachers to review one of three versions of a fake journal article reporting inaccurate information: One version contained only text, the second contained a graph, and the third had a picture of a brain scan. Teachers were more likely to consider the article containing the brain scan credible, even though it was unrelated to the text.
I urge you to read the whole article as a reminder that we conflict professionals need to be very tentative and diligent when we make statements about how brains can affect and effect conflict resolution.