Social Representations of Brain Research: Exploring Public (Dis)engagement With Contemporary Neuroscience

Cliodhna O’Connor, Helene Joffe

Recent years have seen a major expansion of the position of neuroscience in the mass media, public policy, and legal dialogue. Drawing on interviews with 48 London residents, this article examines how people with no prior involvement with neuroscience make sense of the concept of “brain research.” Thematic analysis of the data furnished little evidence that neuroscience has meaningfully infiltrated lay thinking. Respondents consigned brain knowledge to the “other world” of science, which was seen as a decidedly separate social milieu. They envisioned that the only route by which they might become alert to brain information would be if they developed a neurological illness. This article considers the social and psychological dynamics that shape neuroscience’s dissipation into public consciousness.



The changing brain: Neuroscience and the enduring import of everyday experience

Martyn Pickersgill, Paul Martin, Sarah Cunningham-Burley
Discourses of ‘neuroplasticity’ have become increasingly apparent in the neurosciences and wider society. These connect with broader narratives about the ‘changing brain’ throughout the life-course. Here, we explore their presence in the talk of a range of publics. Their presence is indicative of how novel neuroscience is accepted, or not, by our participants. In particular, we suggest that any acceptance of the science relates to their personal and/or professional experiences of change (to their own or others’ subjectivities) rather than to some intrinsic and widely-held significance of scientific concepts per se. Accordingly, we also submit that it is in part through the congruence of some neuroscientific claims to everyday experiences and perspectives that the former are rendered legible and salient. In this respect, ‘lay’ knowledge has considerable import for the wider cultural authorisation of that of ‘experts’.


Does television reflect the evolution of scientific knowledge? The case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder coverage on French television

Mélanie Bourdaa, Jan Pieter Konsman, Claire Sécail, Tommaso Venturini, Isabelle Veyrat-Masson, Francois Gonon

Biomedical findings mature from uncertain observations to validated facts. Although subsequent studies often refute initial appealing findings, newspapers privilege the latter and often fail to cover refutations. Thus, biomedical knowledge and media reporting may diverge with time. Here we investigated how French television reported on three scientific questions relative to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) from 1995 to 2010: i) is ADHD mainly genetic in origin, ii) does methylphenidate treatment decrease the risk of academic underachievement, and iii) are brain imaging techniques able to reveal ADHD in individual patients? Although scientific evidence regarding these questions has evolved during these 16 years, we observed that nine out of ten TV programs broadcast between 2007 and 2010 still expressed only opinions against the current scientific consensuses. The failure of TV programs to reflect the evolution of the scientific knowledge might be related to a biased selection of medical experts.