A Matter of Personality

From borderline to narcissism

Scientific Fraud About Brain Scan Findings

Brain scans using fMRI are used more and more by some psychiatrists to "prove" that certain behavioral disorders are brain abnormalities when most differences merely reflect performance variables or, more importantly, conditioned responses to prevalent environmental factors. Some differences may reflect disease, but other factors have to be considered to know for sure. Read More


I know one case of ADHD where the child was classified as such since
the age of 7-8 through High School. This child was very difficult,
could not sit still, never looked people in the eye, was a problem at school, etc...

At 18 this person did not go to College but started traveling around the US and Asia. By 22 this same kid became a Tibetan Buddhist monk and could sit meditating for hours. Now over 15 years later, this person is still a practicing Tibetan Buddhist monk.

ADHD really ?

Good post but questionable logic

Thanks for the post and for introducing some really great concepts in neuroscience to folks. I think you make some good points, especially about the many causes for why brains can be different between people. However, I don't think the logic at the end that ADHD can't exist because it is not always present really holds up at all. Other well established medical conditions such as allergies,arthritis,asthma (just to name a few)also may not be expressed under certain environmental conditions but that doesn't make them unreal. In my experience, a child whose attention can only be held when bombarded with stimuli (like in video games) is often in trouble because most of life isn't like that. We should help them, not deny their difficulties. That doesn't necessarily mean medication. In fact, it may mean turning OFF the video games.


Hi Dr. Rettew,

Thanks for your kind words.

I do disagree with your last point, because mental abilities do not seem to me to be analogous to things like arthritis. A flare up of arthritis, for example, will not improve suddenly if you just drive to a different location (unless there was some specific and fairly powerful irritant at the initial location).

I absolutely agree that there are many kids who struggle with attention problems, and that this should indeed be a focus of clinical attention. However, in my opinion, a sizeable majority of these problems are caused by chronic emotional distress resulting from living in a problematic home environment. That's where I think clinical attention should be directed.

early stressful environment

I couldn't agree more with your last point re: chronic emotional distress and early development of tuning out defenses to cope, due to trauma, non attuned/caregivers parents, high stress environments, (not sure if you agree with that last part) - I'm curious if you are familiar with the work of Dr. Gabor Mate up here in Canada Dr. Allen, he has written a book called Scattered Minds and speaks to this theory (backed by research). Of course this likely doesn't explain all cases, but I would argue most, persistent and ALARM (anxiety)-based 'attention problems'...that look like ADHD but is really the brain coping in the way it HAD to develop from a very early age (babies cant fight or flight of course).

Psychopathy is a crock.

I always suspected the MRI scans were a crock.
People CHOOSE their own behavior. No one twists
their arm to be a criminal.

ADHD and environment

As a psych RN for over 30 years, I could not agree more with your ADHD comments. I have no doubt some children have ADHD; I think of a little boy who woke up and hopped back and forth across the room until he had his AM Ritalin; only then could he sit still long enough to eat breakfast. However, many kids do just fine in the hospital as long as there are structure, calm surroundings, adults who speak calmly and quietly, and no danger of getting smacked at any moment. I watch their parents scream, threaten, denigrate, and ignore them as their normal parenting "skills," and I can't imagine how anyone in that environment, would not grow up to be constantly anxious, hypervigilant, unable to concentrate, and angry. I know some psychiatrists medicate the kids just to mellow them out so they won't provoke so much parental abuse. Many parents are unwilling to participate in counseling or parenting classes; they just want their kids out of their hair. Sometimes, medicating these unfortunate kids is the best that can be done, sadly. Living in a chaotic, unstable, threatening environment with neglectful and immature adults who themselves never developed any control over their own emotions is a recipe for producing "ADHD" as well as ODD, in my opinion.

I disagree

I am not a Dr just a parent of an autistic, schizophrenic son. I can't tell you the amount of people who have accused me of causing my sons illness due to poor parenting. Statements like the poster above that blame the parent are down right dangerous and cause tremendous harm to caregivers.

The MRI's are extremely helpful in picturing brain structural changes that are different variants from "normal" controls. Most all of these studies have shown structural variants in schizophrenia and autism (and many other mental illnesses).

They show physiological differences in the brain structure of diseases like Bipolar, Obsessional Compulsive disorder and Epilepsy. Epilepsy was once thought to be a psychological condition as opposed to a medical condition. I think its interesting to note that epilepsy shares a dysfunction of glutamate in the brain; glutamate has recently been linked to being dysfunctional in schizophrenia OCD BPD and other mental illness. No MD would say that epilepsy is not a biological disorder and scientific fraud as you call it because it has changes that are seen in bran scans.

I don't think its rational to discredit the finding of these mri and other brain scan studies rather I believe they are an important tool to help us understand and develop new treatments for these disorders. I think we should welcome these technological advances and

(I also want to note most of the newer brain MRI scan studies are not about ADHD.)


Hi anonymous,

Thanks for your comments. I think you misunderstood the post. What I said is that some MRI findings probably DO represent brain diseases. It's just not always possible to say one way or the other from MRI scan alone.

For the record, I believe OCD, schizophrenia and autism ARE real brain diseases, and anyone blaming parenting for these diseases probably also thinks Alzheimer's disease also results from bad parenting.

Because brain science is still in its infancy, the field has an unfortunate history of both blaming real brain diseases on bad parenting AND attributing behavior problems that ARE due to problematic parenting on non-existant brain diseases.

It's not all one or all the other. To think otherwise would be ridiculously simplistic.

epigenetics sexual orientation

Some epigenetic expressions become unchangeable in a person after birth like sexual orientation.

Your theory of epigenetic responses would allow for people to freely change their sexual orientation through therapy. This most certainly has not been the case as conversion therapy has been disproven.

sex orientation

Hi Jill S,

No, I don't think I'm implying that all. Some epigentic changes are probably reversable while others are not.

I absolutely agree with you that sexual orientation cannot be changed.

However, I also do not think we know exactly what factors in the brain lead to someone's sexual orientation in the first place, as you seem to be implying we do.

the title

Why did you title this article Scientific Fraud? These brain scan studies are posted to medical journals etc as the studies that they are... I don't see any fraud here. You are free to interoperate their findings in any way you like, as you yourself have, but they are still scientific findings.

Thats a pejorative term "Scientific Fraud".

the title

I agree with you that the experiments and the scans themselves are not done fraudulantly, but the articles are written up with grossly fraudulant conclusions stated as fact. These conclusions are not justified by the data, and there are no cautions or disclaimers given. And what they write is the only thing everyone not involved in the experiments themselves sees.

Specifically, the fraud comes when the authors of the studies immediately label any differences they find as "abnormalities" - implying disease - instead of just differences. As if this were the absolute Gospel. I have seen them do this in almost every study of this sort that gets published.

Repeat a lie often enough, and people believe it. That's fraud.

I aggre! (A neurologist perspective)

If a muscle looks paralysed it could be attributed to myopathy, neuropathy, or a stroke or even a simple denial to move it, and certainly you cannot draw causal conclusions from this final step of voluntary movement.
Evidence from the so-called functional brain studies like fMRI are far from proving that their findings are indeed CAUSALLY related to symptoms, syndromes or diseases. They are just correlations, meaning that they could be just the CONSEQUENCES of maladaptive brain responses or one of the final steps. An fMRI actually IS a valid way to measure functionality of a brain area but this tell us nothing about its role in a pathogenetic pathway.

I disagree with your

I disagree with your statement regarding ADHD being a false disorder. ADHD is NOT the inability to focus; it's a dysregulation in the ability to focus which can have a severe impact on learning and memory, especially when learning disorders or anxiety are present. Just because ADHD doesn't "appear" to be present in certain situations, doesn't mean that it's not manifested in a different way. Being able to focus intensely in certain situations is due to hyperfocus, which can also be described as the inability to switch focus between tasks.

As a child, I was diagnosed with ADHD inattentive type (before video games were all the rage) along with learning disabilities in speech and reading. I was never medicated (or treated) due to parental disagreement. For the longest time, I did not accept my diagnosis and questioned if ADHD was a real disorder. I reconsidered my stance and sought help when I realized that my ability to cope and compensate with problems that are specific to ADHD weren't enough to manage adult responsibilities. I was 25 the first time I took a stimulant medication and it was like waking up from a deep fog for the first time in my life. Prior to this, my brain was always foggy and sluggish. With that said, medication isn't the be all end all cure to the myriad of challenges that encompass a diagnosis in ADHD.

I go to great lengths to hide the fact that I have this disorder from teachers, friends, and my employer. Why? Because much like depression there's a huge stigma. There are also those, like yourself, that believe it's the unicorn of psychiatric disorders. In seeking out more help that I would benefit from, I hinder my opportunities for advancement in work and being accepted in a graduate program.


Hi anonymous,

Thanks for your comment

Just to clarify: I believe that there probably are some people in which ADHD-like symptoms do come from some sort of brain disorder, but that the vast majority of people who get that label do not.

I can recall, in fact, when, for the most part, ONLY people who had dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities received the diagnosis - and it used to also be referred to as "minimal brain dysfunction." That's of course a wastebasket term, but at least there was some consistent evidence for it.

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David M. Allen, M.D., is a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Tennessee and author of the book How Dysfunctional Families Spur Mental Disorders.


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