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Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience Hardcover – June 4, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0465018772 ISBN-10: 0465018777 Edition: 5.5.2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 5.5.2013 edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465018777
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465018772
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* What do the bright and colorful splotches on brain scans tell us about the mind and human behavior? Not as much as we’d like to think, according to psychiatrist Satel and psychologist Lilienfeld, who caution against the overheated promises of neuroscience that have crept into commerce, law, sociology, and science itself. Could brain scans replace focus groups, counseling, and lie detectors to explain our actions, feelings, and potential? Focusing on the use of brain scans in marketing (to identify emotional triggers), addiction treatment (to look beyond efforts at self-control), and law enforcement (to mitigate responsibility for criminal behavior), they ponder the broader implications of relying too much on neurology—and not enough on psychology—to explain human behavior. Placing MRIs in historical context, including the phrenology fad, they question the scientific soundness of using brain scans in fields other than neurology. As interesting are important issues they raise, from worries about cognitive liberty to the right to protect yourself against incrimination and unreasonable searches and seizures. This fascinating book cautions against the appeal and seeming authority of the brain scan, which renders it vulnerable to conscription in the service of one or another political or social agenda. --Vanessa Bush


Wall Street Journal
“In their concise and well-researched book, [Satel and Lilienfeld] offer a reasonable and eloquent critique of this fashionable delusion, chiding the premature or unnecessary application of brain science to commerce, psychiatry, the law and ethics…. In a book that uses 'mindless' accusatively in the subtitle, you might expect an excitable series of attacks on purveyors of what's variously called neurohype, neurohubris and neurobollocks. But more often than not Dr. Satel and Mr. Lilienfeld stay fair and levelheaded. Good thing, because this is a topic that requires circumspection on all sides.”

New York Times
“Dr. Satel and Dr. Lilienfeld offer a methodical critique of this oversimplified neuro-nonsense, convincingly arguing that in many ways the M.R.I.’s of today are simply the phrenology heads of yesteryear, laughably primitive attempts to wrangle human character and behavior into tractable form.”

“In this volume, these two prolific authors combine their talents to provocatively call for caution concerning many of the promises associated with neuroscience…A very readable, even entertaining, commentary on how neuroscience is beginning to change the world…A welcome reminder of the never-ending need for healthy skepticism as we encounter the various creative endeavors that so often accompany emerging scientific developments.”

The National Review
“[An] incisive and clearly written book…if you want to know where and why the neuroscientific used-car salesmen are wrong, if you want to arm yourself against their preposterous overselling, read this book.”

David Brooks, New York Times
"[A] compelling and highly readable book."

“A well-informed attack on the extravagances of “neurocentrist” thought.”

The New Scientist
“The intrepid outsider needs expert guidance through this rocky terrain – and there's no better place to start than Brainwashed by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld. Satel, a practising psychiatrist, and Lilienfeld, a clinical psychologist, are terrific sherpas. They are clear-sighted, considered and forgiving of the novice's ignorance”

Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“A smart and sometimes devastating critique of ‘neurobollocks’… this book is a brisk read, but a good one -- and, I would argue, an important one.”

“Satel and Lilienfeld provide an engaging overview of the technical and conceptual factors that complicate the interpretation of brain scans obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging and other techniques…. Brainwashed offers much to bolster popular understanding of what brain imaging can and cannot achieve.”

Huffington Post
"[An] important new book.... Brainwashed is not an anti-neuroscience book by any means. Indeed, the authors celebrate the new insights into human thought and behavior that brain studies have yielded. But the book does take a hard stand against the prevailing neurocentrism, and aims to restore some balance to our understanding of human fallibility, including drug and alcohol addiction."

BBC Focus
"In a witty but no-hold-barred book, the authors skewer the ridiculous claims of those who tell us that brain imaging can unlock the secrets of the mind.... Brainwashed explains why we must be skeptical and accept that, if anything, brain research has revealed just how much further we have to go."

Gary Marcus,
"The book does a terrific job of explaining where and how savvy readers should be skeptical."

"Well-written and remarkably balanced…. Should you buy it?... For new readers, or as a gift, it would be fantastic."

“Offers an availing expose on the recklessly radical conclusions of Naïve Neuroscience and what must be addressed to maintain a comprehensive, sensible and constrained Modern Neuroscience.”

"A skeptical but fair-minded review of the field that carefully distinguishes between wild hopes and actual accomplishments."

“[A] lucid new book”

The Scientist
Brainwashed is a reasoned, humane addition to the growing ‘neuroskeptic’ bookshelf.”

Booklist, Starred Review
"[A] fascinating book."

Library Journal
“An accessible entry point to important and timely neuroethical discussions. Above all, readers will learn why they should turn a critical eye to reports that begin, ‘Brain scans show…’”

Kirkus Reviews
“A valuable contribution to the neuroscience bookshelf.”

Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity
“This thoughtful, provocative book provides a needed counterbalance to the arrogant neuromythology that purports to explain all of human behavior through brain imaging. It makes a strong moral argument that we are, ultimately, creatures of choice who can exercise will; it grapples boldly with a science that has sometimes threatened our understanding of what it is to be human.”

Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart
“Science develops new tools that have promise for illuminating age-old questions, and those new tools are then misused or oversold until expectations are finally reconciled with reality. Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfield tell the story of neuroscience’s real and illusory contribution to goals that range from treating addiction and detecting lies to mapping the neural underpinnings of morality. It is a daunting topic, but Brainwashed somehow manages to blend the authors’ mastery of their subject with compulsive readability.”

Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law, George Washington University and Legal Affairs Editor, The New Republic
Brainwashed challenges the much-hyped claim that neuroscience will transform everything from marketing to the legal system to our ideas of blameworthiness and free will. Satel and Lilienfeld bring much needed skeptical intelligence to this field, giving neuroscience its due while recognizing its limitations. This is an invaluable contribution to one of our most contested debates about the ability of science to transform society.”

Peter D. Kramer, author of Against Depression
“An authoritative, fascinating argument for the centrality of mind in what, doubtless prematurely, has been called the era of the brain.”

Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought
“Neuroscience is an exhilarating frontier of knowledge, but many of its champions have gotten carried away. This book shows how attempts to explain the human condition by pointing to crude blotches of brain activity may be superficially appealing but are ultimately unsatisfying. Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld are not dualists, romantics, mystics, or luddites. Their case for understanding the mind at multiple levels of analysis will resonate with thoughtful psychologists and biologists, and they make that case lucidly, expertly, and entertainingly. Anyone who is interested in the brain—and who isn’t?—will be enlightened by this lively yet judicious critique.”

Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale and author of How Pleasure Works
“In this smart, provocative and very accessible book, Satel and Lilienfeld are not out to bury neuroscience; they are here to save it—to rescue it from those who have wildly exaggerated its practical and theoretical benefits. Some of this book is very funny, as when they review the dubious history of neuromarketing and neuropolitics, and some of it is dead serious, as in their discussion of how the abuse of neuroscience distorts criminal law and the treatment of addicts. Brainwashed is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the use and abuse of one of the most important scientific developments of our time.”

Hal Pashler, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego
Brainwashed provides an engaging and wonderfully lucid tour of the many areas in which the progress and applications of neuroscience are currently being overstated and oversold. Some of the hyping of neuroscience appears fairly harmless, but more than a little of it carries potential for real damage—especially when it promotes erroneous ideas about addiction and criminal behavior. The book combines clearheaded analysis with telling examples and anecdotes, making it a pleasure to read.”

Raymond Tallis, author of Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity
“There is a widespread belief that brain science is the key to understanding humanity and that imaging will X-ray our minds, revealing why we buy things and whether we are telling the truth and answering questions about addiction, criminal responsibility, and free will. Brainwashed is a beautifully written, lucid dissection of these exaggerated claims, informed by a profound knowledge of current neuroscience. It is essential reading for anyone who wants a balanced assessment of what neuroscience can and cannot tell us about ourselves.”

Dr. Steven E. Hyman, Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
“Satel and Lilienfeld have produced a remarkably clear and important discussion of what toda...

Customer Reviews

An informative and easy to read book.
John T Philpot
This book offers a valuable reset to the reductionistic notions that are sweeping across the research approach of many fields of human behavior.
Bartley C. Frueh
The authors make a good point when they note how far we are from being able to have the fMRI make legal refined judgments.
Richard C. Sha

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Art Markman on July 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a healthy antidote to some of the exuberance over the use of brain science in practical applications. The field of cognitive neuroscience (the study of the way the human brain implements thinking) is young. The field has learned a lot in the past few decades about how the brain works. However, there are some good reasons to be skeptical about how easily this work translates into the public sphere. This book does a solid job of laying out some of the key issues about why people should be skeptical.

That said, I have a few concerns about the book. I don't think it introduces brain imaging techniques in a way that someone without a background in the field is really going to get. I think the authors could have gone through the techniques at a more leisurely pace. The book is quite short as it is. In addition, I found the discussions of neuromarketing and applications of neuroscience to law to be more compelling than the discussion of the implications of brain research for theories of free will.

If you want a quick introduction to reasons why you should treat practical applications of neuroscience with a grain of salt, then this book will be a good read for you.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Bartley C. Frueh on August 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Drs Satel and Lilienfeld, two thought leaders in the mental health field, have produced a terrific book on a subject of high importance. We all see articles and blogs and scientific papers everywhere we look signaling that advanced technologies in the neurosciences (e.g., brain scans) are revolutionizing our understanding of the human mind, consciousness, and even soul. There is no question such technologies and perspectives provide invaluable scientific advances, but this book provides a refreshing and balanced perspective that they are not yet the answer to all mysteries and may never be. This is a highly readable, smart, and beautifully written treatise. Despite the somewhat dramatic title, the narrative here is not extreme. The authors provide a careful and rationale review of the evidence, and the limitations inherent in it. This book offers a valuable reset to the reductionistic notions that are sweeping across the research approach of many fields of human behavior.

This book is highly accessible, though not "dumbed down" and it should be of interest to active scientists and lay readers alike. It is a terrific entree to the intersecting fields of neuroscience, psychology, and psychiatry. I highly recommend it!
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Joshua M. Penrod on June 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This work, well-written and engaging for virtually any audience, treats the topic of neuroscience with great respect. At the same time, however, it strikes a cautionary note with regard to understanding the current state of this important science, and the sometimes overreaching elements who would proffer it as a panacea of knowledge for all things behavioral, biological, metaphysical, and political. Most striking about this area is not necessarily the technology described, nor even the inevitable and important increases in knowledge, but the willingness of the human interlocutor or "expert" to intervene and offer (sometimes insisting on) an interpretation of the science that simply isn't supportable. If you think you're more than your brain -- or what another human being interprets regarding a one-shot snapshot scan of your brain-- then this is the book for you. It is a valuable addition to the growing library of neuroscience, policy, freewill, and personal liberty.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By John on June 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Wow, this was an excellent read. Sally Satel wrote a book, that was quite the counterbalance to the pop-neuroscience audiobooks I've listened to over the years.

Satel, isn't by any means against the huge steps-forward in brain imaging and neuroscience, but she is opposed to the overeager popularizes who jump to hasty conclusions, and the media swallowing up the hype and spreading nonsense. She knows that this all could later discredit what is an important science. Neuroscience is very young, and many scientist seem all to eager to get rid of the whole psychological part of the picture, neglecting the fact that humans have a mind. Satel seemed against to the religious and platonic notion of the non-physical soul, but believes instead, that the mind comes forth from the brain. Yet still mental states are not identical to the physical brain states. Both need to be considered important, to better understand human behavior and how we change.

Concerning brain imaging, just because a part of the brain lights up, when we look at a picture of Bill Clinton for example, doesn't conclusively show how we feel about him. Lets say the amygdala shows more activity, then the researcher may say that Clinton stirs fear in us. The problem is though the amygdala does indeed light up when one is afraid, it also lights up in several other occasions, it could mean a number of things. It doesn't just serve one function, but many, so a speculative interpretation is required. Also, several part of the brain will light up in any given moment, all of which can indicate different things, muddying up the water further.

Satel, shows some of the many problems in the attempts the show the signature of a lie in the brain, and why lie detector test often fail.
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