Friday, April 10, 2009

Silly (and Sexist) Brain Analogies


Do you spend your days thinking about what the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, and limbic system do? Have you ever stayed awake at night wondering where wisdom comes from? Well, now you'll know all the answers, courtesy of this silly 60-Second Science Blog entry, Is wisdom in the brain?
Dilip Jeste describes those regions' roles in wisdom this way: "The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is like a proverbial father: a disciplinarian, cold, calculating, rationale [sic]. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is probably like a mother: kind, nice, helpful, sociable, emotional. The anterior cingulate is the proverbial uncle who when you have a fight between father and mother, you go to your uncle. The limbic striatum is a friend, a reward system."
OK then. Dr. Jeste gave this interview in response to his recently published review paper with Thomas W. Meeks on the Neurobiology of Wisdom. Mimi Belcher, a postdoc at the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project, wasn't particularly fond of either the 60-Second post or Jeste's familial similes/metaphors. Here she's quoted in the Neuroethics & Law Blog:
Although I can appreciate the blog writer's challenge of filling a "60-second science spot" with condensed information, it's frustrating to see that this synthesis takes the form of reducing the description of the science to animistic will-bearing brain structures. Arguably, the responsibility for this dribble resides with the author of the study, who would do well to stick to a description of the science that doesn't incorporate an episode of "All in the Family". But it's ultimately the responsibility of the author of the newspiece (Jordan Lite) to make sure that these soundbites don't occupy the space where proper science writing should occur. As if lay comprehension of neuroscience wasn't already riddled with problems... now we have brain areas starring as members of our very own family.
Although it's certainly not a stellar piece of science journalism [but what can you realistically expect in 60 seconds??], I personally think Jeste's more to blame for this one...

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