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Focus on Social Representation of Brain Research


Focus on Social Representation of Brain Research

Public perception of brain research is a field that had hardly been investigated. Whilst EBC’s network is made up of members and people who are all highly engaged in brain related issues and who all find brain research salient, a recent article by O’Connor and Joffe argues that brain research receive very little interest or attention from the general public.

In the article ”Social Representations of Brain Research: Exploring Public (Dis)engagement With Contemporary Neuroscience”, brought in the December issue of Science Communication (2014, Vol. 36(5) 617–645), O’Connor and Joffe investigates how lay people engage with neuroscientific information through 40 interviews. The interview that was conducted in London and each were up to one hour long, showed the authors that the general society does not find brain research salient, unless they have themselves been affected by a brain illness. In the interviews, the general perception was that this brain research was not covered by the media, and if it was, this was not something that the interviewees had noticed. This lack of interest, O’Connor and Joffe argues, is most likely due to the fact that people pay very little attention to our internal organs, as people cannot see them and they have limited sensory receptors. As a consequence of this lack of interest, the interviewees had an alienated view on people working within neuroscience and did in general associated neuroscience with “strange men in white coats”, lab equipment, tubes, Bunsen burners and research on animal subjects.

Though this is a field that needs further investigation, the fact the interviewees have a very little interest in neuroscience and general knowledge about the brain is interesting knowledge, which EBC and others with an interest in improving brain health should have in mind in their future activities: If people do not find any interest in a subject, they will be difficult to reach e.g. with information campaign, even when it is with information that might be in their interest, unless other means are caught to catch their attention (the article “Focus on concussions in Danish Handball” later in this newsletter show how it has been possible to create awareness on the danger of improper treated concussions in sports). Furthermore, it could be rewarding to consider how information about the brain can be made more “down to earth” and relatable, and less scary to ordinary people.

EBC’s President, David Nutt, has been interview for International Innovation newest issue on EBC’s priorities, successful endeavours and challenges ahead. The interview has been translated into a four page article, which also can be found online.