It’s not always about the brain

This topic arose elsewhere recently and I thought it would be worth bringing up here. As someone who now actually does have at least a little data about how the brain processes comics, I feel compelled to talk about others who do as well…

I’ve noticed several recent articles that appeal to the “cognition” of comics or the “neuroscience” of comics, particularly in popular writings. However, most of these discussions have nothing to do with the brain’s processes. As a caveat to anyone who might do this, I’m inclined to repost part an old blog entry that’s related:

It is easy to be enticed by the desire to discuss the brain. After all, it is the hidden key to understanding human activity, and I can see how mentioning it lends a feeling of legitimacy to talks of “narrative art.” However, in most discussions (like here), it is largely irrelevant. “Word, images, and writing” can adequately be described and interestingly discussed as human behavior without invoking vague pop-psychological discussions of the brain…

It is very hard to make claims about neurological activity (like that “narrative art” involves right or left brain activity and/or their interactions) without some sort of experimentation. Hell, it’s hard to make conclusive claims about the brain even with experimentation! (…which is partially what makes it so intriguing to study).

My point overall is this: as cool and interesting as it is, not all arguments need to be tied to the brain and cognition. And, in fact, some arguments are made weaker by doing so, since appealing to neuroscience is unnecessary at best and hand-waving at worst.

Figure out what your point is and talk about it. I’m guessing it actually has little to do with neuroscience directly.


  • Also see J. D. Trout (2008). Seduction without cause: uncovering explanatory neurophilia. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12(8), 281–282. "Credibility is a cherished currency in science, but its cues can be counterfeit. A novel series of experiments by Weisberg and her colleagues show that non-expert consumers of behavioral explanations assign greater standing to explanations that contain neuroscientific details, even if these details provide no additional explanatory value. Here, we discuss the part that this 'placebic' information might play in producing a potentially misleading sense of intellectual fluency and, consequently, an unreliable sense of understanding."

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