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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

What Can we Learn about the Mind from Brain Imaging Evidence? (Workshop)

17th June 2016, 10:00, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College

Our understanding of human brain function has advanced dramatically over the past two decades, since the arrival of increasingly sophisticated methods of brain imaging, notably functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Graphic colour photos of brain scans are now commonplace in people’s everyday experience of print and online journalism.

These methodological advances have created a whole new language for thinking about brain function, and have led to a vast range of claims in the literature. These have ranged from relatively incremental or confirmatory findings that add to or strengthen our existing knowledge – through to what some would describe as outlandish or sensationalist conclusions based on sometimes simplistic analyses. Most neuroscientists will recognize reports of the latter variety as belonging in the speculative fringes of science – yet it is all too easy for them to be presented within the public media as ‘scientifically substantiated’.

What truly can be claimed about our cognitive and emotional life from brain imaging research? What kinds of evidence can it provide, and what is the epistemological status of this evidence? What new techniques and analyses are now being developed to go beyond the sometimes naïve inferences that have been made in the past? What fallacies and pitfalls may be lurking in the undergrowth of our thinking about, and interpretation of, brain imaging? What does the future hold for developing new insights and methodological advances?

These questions, and others, are of crucial importance given the considerable expenditure that funding bodies now devote to brain imaging research, as well as the major interest that such research arouses in the popular mind.

The day’s activities will include a programme of talks by invited eminent speakers with particular emphasis on discussing what is good and bad science in this area, what constitutes safe evidence that can be relied upon in making inferences about the brain, and what the future may hold for advances in brain imaging technology. In addition, there will be extended discussion sessions, in an informal atmosphere designed to stimulate a free exchange of ideas. Audience participation will be an important feature of the meeting.


It is hoped that the presentations and discussions at the workshop will lead to increased intellectual clarity in thinking about the nature and value of brain imaging evidence within cognitive neuroscience, and that the event will lead to the development of new and enhanced collaborative networks.

Speakers include:

  • Professor Jody Culham (Western Ontario): What is Functional Neuroimaging?
  • Professor Eleanor Maguire (London): Neuroimaging and Cognition
  • Professor Adrian Owen (Western Ontario): Neuroimaging and Consciousness
  • Professor Richard Passingham (Oxford): The Uses and Misuses of Brain Imaging

Places on this one-day workshop are limited; therefore please contact Dr Susanne Weis susanne.weis@durham.ac.uk in the department of Psychology for further information.

Contact susanne.weis@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.