Use fMRI to Measure the Usefulness of Conflict Resolution Programs? Me, I Don’t Think So!

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution.

This guest blog post at Scientific American hovers nicely along the continuum between breezy and meaty. Its author Kristina Bjoran is a student in MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing; she has written a brief overview of some of the disagreements in the world of neuroscience. It is a good read for anyone interested in the brain and conflict resolution.

Excerpt:

If [Emile Bruneau] succeeds in quantifying empathy, then perhaps, he says, there will finally be a way to measure whether or not conflict resolution programs are working. If a participant in such a program has “greater” empathic activity in his brain after a program, then, obviously, it’s working. If not, adjustments to the program would have to be made.

I don’t think a brain scan will ever be able to gauge the efficacy if a conflict resolution program or technique, at least not in the foreseeable future. But not everyone agrees on the potential of brain scans.

Ten years ago, cognitive neuroscience was skeptical about trying to localize any kind of social process in the brain. The endeavor has been likened, by the harshest of critics, to a new wave of phrenology, the pseudoscientific idea that bumps on a skull indicate some kind of “brain map.” The skeptics argue that such behaviors and processes, like empathy, can’t be pinpointed to one specific place—the processes

emerge, rather, from complex network interactions in the brain.

Bruneau and his supervisor, Rebecca Saxe of Saxelab, both believe that this skepticism has all but died off, and that the whole localization versus network-distribution battle is moot. …

Has the skepticism really died off?

Even if localizing specific brain functions is at some point wholly agreed upon as a worthwhile endeavor, fMRI scanning has its critics, too.

There’s clearly a debate, and probably no end to it in the near future. …

Yep! Clearly. Click to read the rest of “Looking for Empathy in a Conflict-Ridden World.”

                        author

Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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