Who cares about neuroscience?

Not the public, really:

Cliodhna O’Connor and Helene Joffe at UCL in London have just published in-depth interviews with 48 members of the British public and their main finding is that people mostly feel that neuroscience is irrelevant to them. O’Connor and Joffe said a particular feature of the interviews was the participants’ initial bemusement and discomfort about the topic. People said brain science is interesting, but 71 per cent thought it wasn’t salient in their lives…Pushed to elaborate on the field’s irrelevance, many answered that they simply saw brain research as a branch of science, which for them was a remote world.

Although most participants saw brain science as irrelevant, the exception to this rule was when they had personal experience of neurological or psychiatric illness, or they had fears about such illnesses. In this way, the brain for many was a source of anxiety – an organ that was usually ignored but which becomes suddenly salient when it goes wrong. For these people, brain research was essentially seen as a branch of medicine. Indeed, they used terms like brain science and brain surgery, and brain scientist and brain surgeon, interchangeably. There were particular fears about dementia, brain cancer and stroke.

So the public doesn’t really think neuroscience is relevant to them, and when they do it’s because they think it’s a branch of medicine. Also, it scares them to think about it. Great!

Not that should be that big of a surprise; how many people, after struggling to explain their science to a friend just end up shrugging and say, “it’s basic science”? How much of the neuroscience that the public reads about could just be summarized as, “we sent some surveys to see what people thought/how they behaved, and then we found out that the brain is involved“?

I’ve asked this before on the blog but – at this point, is neuroscience even useful?

(Here is one example of where it is useful in the NBA?)

The answer, obviously, is that to most people it is not useful until it is a consumer good.


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