Several highly-cited experiments have presented evidence suggesting that neuroimages may unduly bias laypeople’s judgments of scientific research. This finding has been especially worrisome to the legal community in which neuroimage techniques may be used to produce evidence of a person’s mental state. However, a more recent body of work that has looked directly at the independent impact of neuroimages on layperson decision-making (both in legal and more general arenas), and has failed to find evidence of bias. To help resolve these conflicting findings, this research uses eye tracking technology to provide a measure of attention to different visual representations of neuroscientific data. Finding an effect of neuroimages on the distribution of attention would provide a potential mechanism for the influence of neuroimages on higher-level decisions. In the present experiment, a sample of laypeople viewed a vignette that briefly described a court case in which the defendant’s actions might have been explained by a neurological defect. Accompanying these vignettes was either an MRI image of the defendant’s brain, or a bar graph depicting levels of brain activity–two competing visualizations that have been the focus of much of the previous research on the neuroimage bias. We found that, while laypeople differentially attended to neuroimagery relative to the bar graph, this did not translate into differential judgments in a way that would support the idea of a neuroimage bias.
Baker, D. A., Schweitzer, N. J., Risko, E. F., & Ware, J. M. (2013). Visual Attention and the Neuroimage Bias. PLOs ONE, 8(9).
The definitive version is available at https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0074449
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