Thursday, June 10, 2010

In unsurprising news....

A new study examined the brains of religious Pentecostal Christians and what happened to their brains when they heard a prayer spoken by a regular christian, a non-christian, and a "healer." (they were all actually just spoken by regular christians)

Meanwhile, when they were listening to prayers that they thought were spoken by regular people not much happened. But for the religious folks (but not the non-religious folks):

Parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, which play key roles in vigilance and skepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say, were deactivated when the subjects listened to a supposed healer.

So when this group of people were told that someone with special spiritual powers (rabbi's anyone?) was saying something, the parts of their brain that are responsible for skepticism SHUT OFF. Now that explains a how my mother, who is one of the most skeptical people I know 95% of the time, just seems to have a giant hole in her skepticism when it comes to anything her rabbi says. She seems to have passed the skepticism on to me, but not the belief part. Maybe it's genetic- I just don't have the brain for religiosity.


  1. I've always said it- there's a religion gene and I do not have it.

  2. I think there is always *something* that people take at face value.

    I also think people find peace in not thinking for themselves. It makes their decisions much easier and there is always someone to blame.

    But no, I don't find this surprising.

  3. What would be interesting would be to conduct the same experiment, but have it be medical advice, and have the speakers be a regular person, a nurse, and physician. (Maybe you could have a regular physician and also a "top doc" specialist.

  4. This study is going to require a lot of followup work. First, it may be unique to Pentecostalists or at least stronger with them since they culturally emphasize "being slain in the spirit" and similar notions that encourage suggestibility and discourage reasoning.

    On the other end, it may work for any authority figures. One could imagine that to the right people, being told that someone was a scientist might have the same impact.

    More studies needed.

  5. I have enjoyed following your intriguing life story for a couple of years now. Congrats on your accomplishment of earning a PhD by the way.

    Would love to hear your views on Israel/Palestine, as well as those of your parents, and your relatives in Israel. Just wondering if your renouncing of religion extends to renouncing support for the people/nation of your heritage. Do you agree with your husband's views?

    What did you make of the Flotilla incident?

  6. My views on Israel are highly ambivalent. But mostly I just get annoyed that people want my opinion about israel all the time just cause I happened to be born jewish. I have israel-discussing fatigue. :)

    I agree with some of what my husband says and disagree with other things that he says. :) As for my relatives, since a lot of them live there I assume they are pro-Israel.

    Also I don't think supporting my people automatically means supporting israel, nor do I think NOT supporting israel means I am renouncing the people and nation of my heritage. Jews != Israel.

  7. I think it was Richard Dawkins who said that monotheists are atheistic about all other deities except the one they believe really exists.

    This study does not surprise me. Religious Jews believe in Chukim, laws that have no reasonable explanation. So when you ask Jews why they keep kosher, why they don't mix wool and linen, why they believe spreading the ashes of a red heifer can remove 'spiritual impurity', They echo the Tanya(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi), who says:

    "The rationales of the mitzvot have not been revealed, for they are beyond reason and understanding. Also in those instances in which there has been revealed and explained a certain reason which is apparently comprehensible to us, this is not...the ultimate reason, for within it is contained an inner, sublime wisdom that is beyond reason and understanding."

    Talk about a hole in your skepticism!

    It does not suprise me that this suspension of skepticism would leak into congregational members and their 'spiritual' leaders, like your mom's 'giant hole' for her rabbi. I do, however, know many religious jews who I'd consider to be skeptical of their leaders, but then their skepticism simply dies in the face of the divine claim of the texts in whose laws they adhere to unquestioningly. There is no logical reason for kosher.

    Skepticism is what drives knowledge forward. When it is suspended, stupidity abounds.

  8. OJ friend and I were discussing my son, a 12 year old, who became a vegetarian at age 10. He argued that vegetarians are faux elitists, like Whites believing they were elitist based on having less melanin in their skin color than people with darker skin.

    I flipped. This KOSHER keeping, because god told me so guy, was referring to my child, a kid who decided he had ethical issues with the way animals are raised and honestly, feeling like animals should be pets and not food and decided my son was some faux elitist.

  9. As far as response to religious stimuli and suspension of belief, as a psychologist, I am taking an educated guess. Bet those dopamine receptors go off while praying or observing some ritual. Like being high and consequently looking to get high again. When you are high, you don't always think so rationally and clearly. Makes sense, no?

    Ms. Moon- I have said the exact same thing many, many times.


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