Critical Approaches to Neuroscience

Over the last decade the neurosciences have gained a huge societal impact. In our work we concentrate on methodological or theoretical issues and critically reflect on implicit and explicit assumptions of our field. 

Methodological considerations

The reproducibility of empirical findings is one of the corner stones in science. In a recent vigorous debate, the robustness of findings specifically in the field of psychology has been put into question. One major point of critique referred to the fact that direct replications of studies are rare and that there exist only few incentives for repeating the exact similar experiments (see Carpenter S., Psychology‘s Bold Initiative, Science, 350, 1558-1561). Strikingly, in functional neuroimaging the situation is even more critical since information on basic features of the reported data are lacking. While in psychology the reliability of a measure is one of the fundamental aspects for reporting results, in functional neuroimaging – specifically, but not exclusively in fMRI research – information on the reliability of e.g. contrasts and parameter estimates in the regions of interest are barely existent for original data. For more complex methods even less is known about the robustness of the reported parameters. Based on these thoughts one aim of our current and future work is to provide characterizations of reliability measures of basic and complex methods and procedures in the analyses of functional brain imaging data.

Publications on this topic

Bedenbender J, Paulus FM, Krach S, Pyka M, Sommer J, Krug A, Witt SH, Rietschel M, Laneri D, Kircher T, Jansen A (2011): Functional connectivity analyses in imaging genetics: considerations on methods and data interpretation. PLoS ONE. 6(12).

Paulus FM, Krach S, Albrecht A-G, Jansen A (2013): Potential bias in meta-analyses of effect sizes in imaging genetics. Schizophr Bull. 39:501–503.

Frässle S, Stephan KE, Friston KJ, Steup M, Krach S, Paulus FM, Jansen A (2015): Test-retest reliability of dynamic causal modeling for fMRI. Neuroimage, 117, 56-66.

Critique of implications

Fifteen years ago, neuroscientists began to study cultural phenomena by using functional MRI. Since then the number of publications and research grants in this field, termed cultural neuroscience (CN), has tremendously increased. To a similar degree, neuroscience studies on sex/gender, sexual orientation or race have experienced a boost. While the term “race” has been deemed as inappropriate by most researchers in the recent past, the term has currently seen a revival in the context of neurobiological, genetic or psychiatric studies on “culture” (Heinz et al., 2014).

In our research we problematize the essentialist and simplistic understanding of “culture”, “sex/gender” etc. and argue against the binary structure of the drawn comparisons. With respect to Cultural Neuroscience studies we caution the underlying Eurocentrism and scrutinize whether valuations within the constructed binarities bear the risk of constructing and reproducing a postcolonial, orientalist and racist argumentation pattern.

Publications on this topic

Heinz A, Müller DJ, Krach S, Cabanis M, Kluge UP (2014): The uncanny return of the race concept. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8.

Martínez Mateo M, Cabanis M, Stenmanns J, Krach S (2013): Essentializing the binary self: individualism and collectivism in cultural neuroscience. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 289.

Martínez Mateo M, Cabanis M, Cruz de Echeverría Loebell N, Krach S (2012): Concerns about cultural neurosciences: a critical analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(1), 152–61.

Martínez Mateo M, Cabanis M, Cruz de Echeverría Loebell N, Krach S (2013): On the role of critique for science: a reply to Bao and Pöppel. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(4), 723–5.