Are so many mediators citing neuroscience these days because it is cool? Hot? Fashionable? I don't know. That the science being cited is often either inaccurate or not helpful to conflict resolution is sometimes a tad disturbing.
Although the book being reviewed is not about conflict resolution, a couple of the paragraphs are relevant to the proliferation of neuroscience in the dispute field . . .
This is where the book truly disappoints. Rather than simply giving us straight talk about how disorganized our thoughts and lives are (but we knew that) and how we can do better (tell us, please!), Levitin insists on informing us repeatedly and in detail about how various regions or pathways in the brain are “involved in” the various cognitive and behavioral phenomena he surveys. He really means that increased neural activity in these areas of the brain is correlated with certain behavioral and cognitive phenomena, which actually means only that such activity tends to occur at about the same time as the behavioral and cognitive phenomena. That is not saying much, which is why Levitin keeps implying more with that vague phrase, “involved in.”
University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Morse has dubbed this practice the “brain overclaim syndrome”—the pathological tendency to fool people into thinking you have a profound understanding of something by pointing to brain studies. It goes without saying that any distinctive thing we do—raising an arm, thinking of sheep or shouting, “Hooray!”—must be accompanied by some corresponding neural activity, but that does not explain the activity.
(Click to read the rest of the review.) How much is neuroscience being used today as a trendy camouflage of basic psychology or wisdom or common sense? What does brain science add to any of those three? Typically nothing or not much, in my opinion. What do you think? What has neuroscience brought us that has changed the practice of mediation?
Over the years, I have learned that people reading this blog come from a wide range of belief systems, including atheist, agnostic, and those involved to large or small degree in various spiritual and religious practices. Although this blog post to which I am linking today is written by a Christian and part of the post is from a Christian perspective, I think anyone can learn from what Dr. William Struthers calls the Seven Dangerous Neuro-Temptations (The Table, blog of Biola University). Click to see how he defines neuro-essentialism, neuro-manipulation, neuro-divination, neuro-absolution, neuro-narcissism, neuro-normalcy, and neuro-privilege.
Everyday the media report science findings and the journals churn out research articles. In addition to feeling inundated, the lay reader may also wonder what's accurate and what's suspect and what's downright bogus. Here are three articles that can remind us to be discerning.
First is an interview with neuroscience researcher Dr. Willoughby Britton. Although she is addressing the science of meditation, what she says about how research should be evaluated has more general application. Click to read "Meditation Nation" (Tricycle).
There are different levels of scientific research, different levels of rigor. I think this is a place where the public could use a lot of education. Because they don’t know how to interpret science, they assume much higher levels of evidence.
The first level is a “pre-post” study, which looks something like this: We go learn to meditate for eight weeks and at the end of it we feel better. We took a stress and anxiety scale before and after, and our stress or anxiety improved. So we say, “Meditation helped me!” That is actually not a valid conclusion. The conclusion you can make in science is that something helped. We didn’t control for the idea that just deciding to do something is going to help. Just that factor—intentionally deciding to make a commitment to your health and well-being—can make a big difference.
Click to read about other levels of rigor.
Next is a post titled "How to Spot Bad Science"(Big Think) which includes "a rather splendid bucket list of issues to look out for when reading science news."
And finally here is an article in which the authors point out how important the relational context is in evaluating research, and look at some research showing how it might have different results had the relational context been different.
The study of social behavior using any methodology, including neuroscience methodologies, must take relational context into account. Researchers must consider not only the nature of the actor him or herself, but also the nature of the person with whom he or she is interacting, and, crucially, the nature of the existing (or desired) relationship between them. It is this last aspect of multi-person processes on which we focus in this paper.
When researchers discovered neurons in monkey brains that fired when an action was performed or observed, they were dubbed “mirror neurons.” And they quickly became the go-to explanation for empathy. Decades later, says Sharon Begley, the evidence that human beings have them is sketchy at best.
Mirror neurons were indeed a paradigm-changing discovery. From the observation that some premotor neurons fire when action is observed rather than performed, however, it is quite a leap to empathy, autism, and the rest. It’s natural to root for the human brain to have as many cool components as possible, and enticing to think that one of them offers a simple and elegant answer to the question of what make us human. But even if it turns out that we don’t have these nifty mirror neurons, it doesn’t make us any less empathetic. We just lack a simple neurological explanation for it.
Respected brain researcher Amishi Jha brings a fascinating exploration of findings from cutting-edge neuroscience on the profound and positive effects of mindfulness practices on the brain, psychological health, wellness, and resilience. These practices are finding broad application in corporate, medical, educational, and military settings.
Amishi Jha, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, is an award-winning and widely published researcher and director of contemplative neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. (www.amishi.com)
Enjoy her presentation. In addition to being a noted researcher, she is an excellent speaker.
Both photos were taken by me at the Naropa event. The second one includes Jane Carpenter who co-presented with Dr. Jha on the second day.
Your tone of voice can affect your client's ability to hear you, especially in times of stress. In order to have a tone of voice that allows us to be heard, we need to monitor our own level of tension, our own level of defensiveness, our own level of feeling safe. Ongoing monitoring requires mindfulness.
And a truly calming tone of voice is very different from a maneuver, move, or ploy to manipulate a client.
The tone of voice that facilitates good communication does not result from a technique: it flows from the speaker's state. It comes from an inner feeling of safety and conveys that safety to others. Porges's Polyvagal Theory provides the neuroscience and physiology behind the effect of voice tone.
If you want to interact effectively with clients, I highly recommend that you take some time to listen to Porges talking about his theory here or here (slides for the CCARE talk). (Other talks are here.) I have found that listening at those links was easier to understand than reading his book or articles about his work, with the exception of this written interview and this one which are easy to understand.
Once again I am featuring wise practitioners, Shanker and Porges today, who do not talk about stuffing your bag of tricks fuller or
Neuroscientist Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph D, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center, presents at Berkeley Law on the ways meditation can improve the well-being, concentration, and emotional intelligence of lawyers. In addition to reviewing recent studies in neuroscience and psychology, Simon-Thomas highlights results of pilot studies on Berkeley Law students demonstrating these benefits among participants in mindfulness-in-law courses. Hosted by the Berkeley Initiative for Mindfulness in Law (law.berkeley.edu/mindfulness.htm).
Because scientists don't have a sophisticated knowledge of meditation, they have defaulted to measuring meditation expertise by the number of hours a person has practiced, says Dr. Willoughby Britton. This way of defining expert meditators is both misleading and skews research results. She then quotes the old adage: Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect. One of problems she cites that results from this lack of understanding is the benefits of meditation are being "way over-hyped."
In this entertaining video clip, she also talks about the Blobology Effect: If we see something explained or proven by a colorful blob on a fMRI scan, we tend to think it is true, even if preposterous. The fMRI becomes a marketing opportunity, and the Blobology Effect underscores how impoverished our self-knowledge is if we need to look to technology to read how we are feeling in our minds and bodies.
In this TEDxTalk, Professor Willoughby Britton tells us that happiness is not about getting what you want. She discusses our mental qualities as habits we practice and she sheds light on an important link between neuroscience and contemplative studies.