The seductive allure of the brain: Dualism and lay perceptions of neuroscience

Cogn Neuropsychol. 2021 May;38(3):205-230. doi: 10.1080/02643294.2021.1976127. Epub 2021 Sep 16.


Laypeople prefer brain explanations of behavior (Weisberg, Keil, Goodstein, Rawson, & Gray, 2008). We suggest that this preference arises from 'intuitive Dualism'. For the Dualist, mentalistic causation elicits a mind-body dissonance, as it suggests that the immaterial mind affects the body. Brain causation attributes behavior to the body, so it alleviates the dissonance, hence, preferred. We thus predict stronger brain preference for epistemic traits - those perceived as least material, even when no explanation is required. To test this prediction, participants diagnosed clinical conditions using matched brain- and behavioral tests. Experiments 1-2 showed that epistemic traits elicited stronger preference for brain tests. Experiment 3 confirmed that epistemic traits are perceived as immaterial. Experiment 4 showed that, the less material the trait seems, the stronger the surprise (possibly, dissonance) and brain preference. Results offer new insights into public perception of science, the role of intuitive Dualism, and the seductive allure of neuroscience.

Keywords: Seductive allure of neuroscience; causal reasoning; core knowledge; dualism; folk psychology.

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Humans
  • Neurosciences*
  • Perception