Mind

A Colourful PRISM

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticApr 1, 2013 11:10 PM

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A reader brought this to my attention: PRISM Brain Mapping

PRISM Brain Mapping is a sophisticated, online, neuroscience-based instrument specifically designed to identify the behavioural preferences that directly relate to personal relationships and work performance... It is about enabling people with no neuroscientific background to understand and use some of the latest discoveries of brain science in their personal and business lives.

And so on. You do an online assessment, you get a report telling you your preferences, aptitudes, strengths and weaknesses. Or maybe your recruiter, boss, or supervisor gets the report. But PRISM is no everyday assessment tool, because it's about the brain. Check it out:

The circle, you see, is the brain - from a top-down perspective...

The PRISM chart represents the relationships between the right hemisphere (Green and Blue) and the left hemisphere (Gold and Red) of the brain, plus the front half of the brain - the motor cortex (Gold and Green) and the rear half - the sensory cortex (Red and Blue). Red and Gold preferences indicate how a person will tend to behave when engaged in a task and/or when under pressure. Green and Blue preferences indicate how a person will tend to behave in a social setting...

Now, it's true that broadly speaking the front of the brain is responsible for 'deciding', and the back for 'processing' (perception, memory, etc.) But I'm not sure that makes 'analysis' more frontal than 'drive' or 'stability', both of which are about making decisions, in my book. Hmm. Then regarding the left vs. right stuff, we see a rather standard example of pop psychology brain lateralization, with the geeky left hemisphere and the creative right. But here's a thought: does it really matter what the colourful circle represents? It could equally well be 'the four chambers of the heart', or 'the four humours'. What's really being assessed is your behaviour; you answer some questions, and you get a report about yourself based on the answers. Depending on how good the questions are, this may or may not be useful, but that's all there is. Anything else is just marketing fluff. Strangely, I was about to write a final paragraph and then I realized that PRISM had made my point for me (although coming to the opposite conclusion):

In the same way that most people do not have to know the detailed workings of a computer before they can make effective use of it and its applications, they do not have to understand all the intricacies of the brain to grasp the relevance of its basic principles and the role it plays in creating human behaviour.

You don't need to know any neuroscience in order to understand your own aptitudes and preferences - any more than you need to understand silicon chips to use MS Word. There must be a neural basis for your aptitudes and preferences, but no-one knows it - and luckily, no-one needs to.

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