Neurodualism: People Assume that the Brain Affects the Mind more than the Mind Affects the Brain

Jussi Valtonen, Woo kyoung Ahn, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People commonly think of the mind and the brain as distinct entities that interact, a view known as dualism. At the same time, the public widely acknowledges that science attributes all mental phenomena to the workings of a material brain, a view at odds with dualism. How do people reconcile these conflicting perspectives? We propose that people distort claims about the brain from the wider culture to fit their dualist belief that minds and brains are distinct, interacting entities: Exposure to cultural discourse about the brain as the physical basis for the mind prompts people to posit that mind–brain interactions are asymmetric, such that the brain is able to affect the mind more than vice versa. We term this hybrid intuitive theory neurodualism. Five studies involving both thought experiments and naturalistic scenarios provided evidence of neurodualism among laypeople and, to some extent, even practicing psychotherapists. For example, lay participants reported that “a change in a person's brain” is accompanied by “a change in the person's mind” more often than vice versa. Similarly, when asked to imagine that “future scientists were able to alter exactly 25% of a person's brain,” participants reported larger corresponding changes in the person's mind than in the opposite direction. Participants also showed a similarly asymmetric pattern favoring the brain over the mind in naturalistic scenarios. By uncovering people's intuitive theories of the mind–brain relation, the results provide insights into societal phenomena such as the allure of neuroscience and common misperceptions of mental health treatments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13034
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Causality
  • Intuitive theories
  • Mental disorders
  • Mind–body dualism
  • Reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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