Chris Blattman

The neuroscience of faith healing

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Schjødt and his colleagues scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostalists and 20 non-believers while playing them recorded prayers. The volunteers were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian and six by a healer. In fact, all were read by ordinary Christians.

Only in the devout volunteers did the brain activity monitored by the researchers change in response to the prayers. Parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, which play key roles in vigilance and scepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say, were deactivated when the subjects listened to a supposed healer.

Schjødt says that this explains why certain individuals can gain influence over others, and concludes that their ability to do so depends heavily on preconceived notions of their authority and trustworthiness.

Reported by New Scientist. Original paper here.

2 Responses

  1. How does a study like this get through the human subjects review process? I imagine that the Pentecostalists might have been pretty upset that the researchers lied to them about who read the prayers. Of course, psychologists performing studies like this lost all credibility with me long ago.

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