The primacy of behavioral research for understanding the brain.

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46 Scopus citations


Understanding the brain requires us to answer both what the brain does, and how it does it. Using a series of examples, I make the case that behavior is often more useful than neuroscientific measurements for answering the first question. Moreover, I show that even for “how” questions that pertain to neural mechanism, a well-crafted behavioral paradigm can offer deeper insight and stronger constraints on computational and mechanistic models than do many highly challenging (and very expensive) neural studies. I conclude that purely behavioral research is essential for understanding the brain—especially its cognitive functions—contrary to the opinion of prominent funding bodies and some scientific journals, who erroneously place neural data on a pedestal and consider behavior to be subsidiary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-609
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • behavioral experiments
  • cognition
  • neuroscience
  • priorities


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