Neuroskeptic: Trauma Alters Brain Function… So What?

The ever-valuable Neuroskeptic, playing Stanley Kowalski (“I knew a girl once who was the glamorous type. She told me, ‘I am the glamorous type.’ I said, ‘So what?’”), asks just what it means that a scan study shows that “trauma alter brain function”:
<blockquote>The authors link their findings to previous work with frankly vague statements such as “The increased regional activity and reduced functional connectivity in frontolimbic and striatal regions occurred in areas known to be important for emotion processing”. But anatomically speaking, most of the brain is either “frontolimbic” or “striatal”, and almost everywhere is involved in “emotion processing” in one way or another.

So I don’t think we understand the brain much better for reading this paper. Further work, building on these results, might give insights. We might, say, learn that decreased connectivity between Regions X and Y is because trauma decreases serotonin levels, which prevents signals being communicated between these areas, which is why trauma victims can’t use X to deliberately stop recalling traumatic memories, which is what Y does.


I just made that up. But that’s a theory which could be tested. Much of today’s neuroimaging research doesn’t involve testable theories – it is merely the exploratory search for neural differences between two groups. Neuroimaging technology is powerful, and more advanced techniques are always being developed. What with resting state, functional connectivity, pattern-classification analysis, and other fancy methods, the scope for finding differences between groups is enormous and growing. I’m being rather unfair in criticizing this paper; there are hundreds like it. I picked this one because it was published last week in a good journal.</blockquote>.

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