This study seemed like it was begging to be done, so I figured somebody must have done it already. Thank you Google Scholar for helping me find it…
Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning [pdf]
David P. McCabe and Alan D. Castel
Brain images are believed to have a particularly persuasive influence on the public perception of research on cognition. Three experiments are reported showing that presenting brain images with articles summarizing cognitive neuroscience research resulted in higher ratings of scientific reasoning for arguments made in those articles, as compared to articles accompanied by bar graphs, a topographical map of brain activation, or no image. These data lend support to the notion that part of the fascination, and the credibility, of brain imaging research lies in the persuasive power of the actual brain images themselves. We argue that brain images are influential because they provide a physical basis for abstract cognitive processes, appealing to people’s affinity for reductionistic explanations of cognitive phenomena.
For a few years now I’ve been joking that I should end every talk with a slide of a random brain image, and conclude, “Aaaannnd… all of this happens in the brain!” This is solid evidence that doing so would help my credibility.
Now, the next big question is: who’s going to replicate this with psychologists and neuroscientists as the subjects?