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A distinguished psychologist considers five conditions that constrain inferences about the relation between brain activity and psychological processes.
Scientists were unable to study the relation of brain to mind until the invention of technologies that measured the brain activity accompanying psychological processes. Yet even with these new tools, conclusions are tentative or simply wrong. In Five Constraints on Predicting Behavior, the distinguished psychologist Jerome Kagan describes five conditions that place serious constraints on the ability to predict mental or behavioural outcomes based on brain data: the setting in which evidence is gathered, the expectations of the subject, the source of the evidence that supports the conclusion, the absence of studies that examine patterns of causes with patterns of measures, and the habit of borrowing terms from psychology.
Kagan describes the importance of context, and how the experimental setting – including the room, the procedure, and the species, age, and sex of both subject and examiner – can influence the conclusions. He explains how subject expectations affect all brain measures; considers why brain and psychological data often yield different conclusions; argues for relations between patterns of causes and outcomes rather than correlating single variables; and criticizes the borrowing of psychological terms to describe brain evidence. Brain sites cannot be in a state of "fear".
A deeper understanding of the brain's contributions to behaviour, Kagan argues, requires investigators to acknowledge these five constraints in the design or interpretation of an experiment.
Jerome Kagan is Daniel and Amy Starch Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of The Nature of the Child, An Argument for Mind, Psychology's Ghosts, On Being Human, and other books.
"Kagan has an awesome mastery of both neuroscience and the philosophy of science. But what makes him quite unusual and very special is his ability to use research findings to challenge preconceptions and appreciate their meaning and utility in everyday life. This book is a wonderful read, but it is also constructively provocative. Another Kagan masterpiece!"
– Michael Rutter, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre; Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London
"Jerome Kagan's coverage of constraints on behavior represents a remarkable summary that only one of psychology's most distinguished scholars could provide. He captures much of modern brain science that bears on behavior and does so by spanning an incredibly diverse array of abilities across development and species, always paying homage to the field's historical roots. With an emphasis on methodological rigor, Kagan warns of interpretive traps, yet offers an optimistic view that brain-behavior correlations, assessed by tasks in natural contexts, will lead to causal theories of our most complex cognitive achievements."
– Richard N. Aslin, William R. Kenan Professor Emeritus, University of Rochester
"No other psychologist 'tells it like it is' the way Kagan does. He's lived through a good portion of the recent history of experimental psychology, and has sharp opinions about what is needed for the field to advance beyond some of its currently troubling tendencies. Every psychological researcher, and neuroscientist interested in behavior, must read this book."
– Joseph LeDoux, author of Anxious