Real-Life Neuroscience: An Ecological Approach to Brain and Behavior Research

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Owing to advances in neuroimaging technology, the past couple of decades have witnessed a surge of research on brain mechanisms that underlie human cognition. Despite the immense development in cognitive neuroscience, the vast majority of neuroimaging experiments examine isolated agents carrying out artificial tasks in sensory and socially deprived environments. Thus, the understanding of the mechanisms of various domains in cognitive neuroscience, including social cognition and episodic memory, is sorely lacking. Here we focus on social and memory research as representatives of cognitive functions and propose that mainstream, lab-based experimental designs in these fields suffer from two fundamental limitations, pertaining to person-dependent and situation-dependent factors. The person-dependent factor addresses the issue of limiting the active role of the participants in lab-based paradigms that may interfere with their sense of agency and embodiment. The situation-dependent factor addresses the issue of the artificial decontextualized environment in most available paradigms. Building on recent findings showing that real-life as opposed to controlled experimental paradigms involve different mechanisms, we argue that adopting a real-life approach may radically change our understanding of brain and behavior. Therefore, we advocate in favor of a paradigm shift toward a nonreductionist approach, exploiting portable technology in semicontrolled environments, to explore behavior in real life.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)841-859
Number of pages19
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Social interactions
  • behavioral
  • episodic memory
  • memory
  • methodology
  • neuroscience
  • social cognition

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


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