ABC Radio National’s Life Matters covers the surprising news that France has created a brain and behavioural research unit specifically to form public policy.
The public policy in question is not just to do with the mind and brain and the director of the unit describes a ‘neuromarketing’ approach where the programme seems set to advise on how, for example, anti-smoking messages can be formulated.
As we’ve discussed several times, the ‘neuro’ of ‘neuromarketing’ is an interesting research focus but as an applied science it is completely premature and can currently tell us nothing about how best to appeal to the public that standard psychology can’t do already.
Rather worringly, unit director Olivier Oullier seems to think that ‘neuroscience’ and ‘neuroimaging’ allows access to unconscious and emotional responses that aren’t available to established behavioural research.
This is clearly crap and anyone who is aware of how neuroimaging studies are created knows that they rest on the quality of the psychological science.
It is also the case that not a single ‘neuromarketing’ study has shown a way to predict consumer responses, attitudes or preferences that improves on previously established cognitive science.
Psychology can be, and is, used to inform and evaluate public information campaigns and the effectiveness of public policy but at the current time brain scans are nothing but fairly lights.
UPDATE: Olivier Oullier got in touch to note that his interview was sparked by the release of a (very good) report [pdf] on ‘Improving public health prevention with behavioural, cognitive and neuroscience’. We’ve agreed to disagree on the value of neuroimaging in public policy right now, but he notes he’s actually a lot more measured in his analysis than you might of thought from my comments above.
Link to Life Matters on ‘Neuroscience and public policy’.