Neuro Myths: The Dark side of Neuroscience Communication

7/1/2022 1:34:11 PM

Neuro Myths: The Dark side of Neuroscience Communication

Have you ever heard about products that claim that they can make a big impact on solving your problems most shortly and simply? If you buy this package, you can read many books in just one day, you can improve all of your disorder symptoms just with an 8-week mindfulness course, and it can even change the structure of your brain! Maybe you get what I want about what; I am a psychology student who loves to learn about the science of the brain and teach it in a simple way to lay people. This is what we may call “Science Communication”. Defining science communication may have some difficulties but in this article, we define it as a process in which a person (science communicator) uses appropriate skills, media, activity, and dialogue to produce a response in another person [1]. Science communication is a very important issue in the acceptance of a scientific concept in society but everything does not always go well. In this article, I am going to explain the dark side of science communication in the field of neuroscience.

What is Neuromyth?

I work as a Psychology teacher at the high school because I love teaching. Because of my teaching interest, I follow some references in educational neuroscience. In the literature of educational neuroscience, there is a terminology, Neuromyth. In 2007, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defined neuromyth as the misunderstandings about the brain and neuroscience among educators. However, this term is not a new word; Alan Crockard who was a neurosurgeon used the term neuromyth to describe misleading information about brain function in medicine [2]. It may be rational to extend this concept beyond educational neuroscience. Science communicators should be aware of neuromyths and avoid them. Anyway, in the following sentence titles, we will review the factors that may lead a science communicator to the neuromyth.

Simplification is Ok, BUT not simpler!

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler”, this quote is attributed to Albert Einstein, but apparently does not belong to him [3]. But I have nothing to do with who said this sentence, but the meaning of this sentence is important to me. It will be good that we use simple words to describe complex concepts for lay people; but we should be aware that when we simplified a complex scientific concept, we missed many aspects of it. When we attempt to make something simpler by ignoring the complexities of that, we have to do Oversimplification. For example, maybe you heard that Oxytocin is a Love hormone; but that is not the whole story! The evidence shows that the effects of Oxytocin are very independent of context. This hormone has also been shown to increase aggressive behaviors toward out-group members (in contrast we can see that in-group conformity is increased) [4]. On the other hand, we must have the notion that our behavior is a complex phenomenon, and reducing it to just one hormone and ignoring other factors is a good example of oversimplification.

Media can make a Devil or a global Angel

What do you think about mindfulness? Is this the best and well scientifically proven treatment for all of your illnesses? Yes, I know there is much research about the clinical effectiveness of mindfulness; but it is not a key to all closed doors. There are many scientific challenges in this field that we have to be aware of [5]. For example, a meta-analysis of mindfulness has moderate evidence of improved anxiety, and they found low evidence of no effect or insufficient evidence of any effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight. In addition, these researchers found no evidence that meditation programs were better than any active treatment (i.e., drugs, exercise, and other behavioral therapies) [6]. Some meditation production says that their product can make a structural change in your brain, but recently a large study shows no evidence of structural brain change with short-term mindfulness training [7].

The claims are beyond clinical effects; you may hear that meditation can make you a better person and make worldwide peace. But a meta-analysis demonstrates that still there is no strong scientific evidence behind this [8]. But why is meditation popular? One of the key factors is for Media’s power, pop science books, mediation app companies, etc, promote many positive claims about it. While another psychological intervention like hypnosis despite the long history of studies and its effectiveness is not as popular as meditation [9]. The image that the media represents of hypnosis is silly, they promote that hypnosis can control your mind and force you to do something against your will. However, that is a myth[10]. 

What is the greatest enemy of knowledge?

The last point that I like to share is that we think we know, but our understanding of what we know sometimes is not accurate. People feel they understand complex phenomena with far greater precision, coherence, and depth than they really do [11]. There is a quote: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is illusion of knowledge.” When telling a complex scientific concept to others in simple language, it is good to warn them about the complexities that it may have so that they do not have the illusion of knowledge. These points are just one drop of the sea, you must read more about neuromyths, critical thinking, and other essential skills for scientific communication.

Written By: Danial Nejadmasoom

The administrative of the USERN Offices Affairs 

Poster Design: Alireza Bagheri


1. Burns, T.W., D.J. O'Connor, and S.M. Stocklmayer, Science Communication: A Contemporary Definition. Public Understanding of Science, 2003. 12(2): p. 183-202.

2. Torrijos-Muelas, M., S. González-Víllora, and A.R. Bodoque-Osma, The Persistence of Neuromyths in the Educational Settings: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Psychology, 2021. 11.

3.  Robinson, A., Did Einstein really say that? Nature, 30 April 2018.

4. Bethlehem, R., et al., The oxytocin paradox. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 2014. 8.

5. Farias, M. and C. Wikholm, Has the science of mindfulness lost its mind? BJPsych Bull, 2016. 40(6): p. 329-332. 

6. Goyal, M., et al., Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med, 2014. 174(3): p. 357-68.

7. Kral, T.R.A., et al., Absence of structural brain changes from mindfulness-based stress reduction: Two combined randomized controlled trials. Science Advances, 2022. 8(20): p. eabk3316.

8. Kreplin, U., M. Farias, and I.A. Brazil, The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 2018. 8(1): p. 2403.

9. Nejadmasoom, D., Hypnoanalgesia: A Bridge Between Neuroscience and Clinical Settings. 2022. In Press(In Press): p. e127650.

10. Lynn, S.J., et al., Myths and misconceptions about hypnosis and suggestion: Separating fact and fiction. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2020. 34(6): p. 1253-1264.

11. Rozenblit, L. and F. Keil, The misunderstood limits of folk science: an illusion of explanatory depth. Cognitive science, 2002. 26(5): p. 521-562.

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