Over the past decade or so there has been growing interest in the opportunities offered by fMRI scans of the brain. These scans that involve very expensive, highly specialist technology produce images of the bran and brain activity that are being used by experts to determine the impact of environmental events, music, smells, colours, etc. on human behaviour, in particular people’s buying behaviour. A popular book in this regard, Martin Lindstrom’s Buy-ology has made waves with claims as to how fMRI technology will revolutionise not only market research but marketing and all our buying behaviour. In short, we all will become the puppets of those who know how to manipulate our brains.
Apart form the problems of inferences from brain activity to human behaviour the science underlying Lindstrom and others’ claims is still very young and their arguments have been highly contested by neuroscientists as well as buy sociologists. Recently, Andrew Balmer reviewed “Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences” in Symbolic Interaction. With “Handling Digital Brains” Morana Alac (UCSD) has written a book that investigates the practices involved in making sense of fMRI images. From the start of her book Alac highlights that interpreting fMRI images is an activity that involves the use of tools and technologies as well as interaction between various participants. In this sense, Alac contributes to Science and Technology studies and in particular ethnomethodological research concerned with the use of tools and technologies and scientific work.
Patrick Watson’s review of her book has just been published on Early View.