Is neuroimaging measuring information in the brain?

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Abstract

Psychology moved beyond the stimulus response mapping of behaviorism by adopting an information processing framework. This shift from behavioral to cognitive science was partly inspired by work demonstrating that the concept of information could be defined and quantified (Shannon, 1948). This transition developed further from cognitive science into cognitive neuroscience, in an attempt to measure information in the brain. In the cognitive neurosciences, however, the term information is often used without a clear definition. This paper will argue that, if the formulation proposed by Shannon is applied to modern neuroimaging, then numerous results would be interpreted differently. More specifically, we argue that much modern cognitive neuroscience implicitly focuses on the question of how we can interpret the activations we record in the brain (experimenter-as-receiver), rather than on the core question of how the rest of the brain can interpret those activations (cortex-as-receiver). A clearer focus on whether activations recorded via neuroimaging can actually act as information in the brain would not only change how findings are interpreted but should also change the direction of empirical research in cognitive neuroscience.

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de-Wit, L., Alexander, D., Ekroll, V., & Wagemans, J. (2016). Is neuroimaging measuring information in the brain? Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 23(5), 1415–1428. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-016-1002-0

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