Monday, June 17, 2013

Charisma and the Brain, Part 1

Researchers in the Department of the Study of Religion, Aarhus University in Denmark, released findings of a fMRI study of 40 participants: 20 Pentecostal Christians (who believe that some individuals have divinely inspired powers of healing, wisdom, and prophecy) and 20 non-believers. Researchers scanned the participant’s brains while playing recorded prayers, all read by an ordinary Christian, although participants were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian, and six by a “healer.” Results showed that monitored brain activity changed in response to prayers only in the brains of Pentecostal volunteers. Portions of the brain’s prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices (areas that play key roles in vigilance and skepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say) were deactivated when the participants listened to the supposed healer. They also showed diminished activity (to a lesser extent than deactivation) when the speaker was supposedly a normal Christian. Part 2 tomorrow.

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