Listening to Prayer Halts Brain Activity

Sergei Frolov (CC)

Photo: Sergei Frolov (CC)

Believers and non-believers alike, please chime in. This is sort of how I felt when I had to attend church as a kid (I never went into a coma, although I did get really, really bored). Your experience with praying may have been different back then and still is today.

Andy Coghlan has written, what I think will be a contentious article for disinfo.com readers, on New Scientist:

When we fall under the spell of a charismatic figure, areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active. That’s the finding of a study which looked at people’s response to prayers spoken by someone purportedly possessing divine healing powers.

To identify the brain processes underlying the influence of charismatic individuals, Uffe Schjødt of Aarhus University in Denmark and colleagues turned to Pentecostal Christians, who believe that some people have divinely inspired powers of healing, wisdom and prophecy.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 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.

Read More of Andy Coghlan’s article in New Scientist

Photo: Sergei Frolov via Wikimedia Commons

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  • CousinX

    Not too surprising, really.

    See this in action:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKnO6MQCw9Y

    And then consider that watching TV (or YouTube) has a similar effect:

    http://old.disinfo.com/archive/pages/article/id

  • stang

    “areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active.”
    Yeah. I think they call it, 'faith.' Its a revelation.

  • tonyviner

    Listening to prayer halts brain activity?? That explains why god is so slow!! :(

  • Tuna Ghost

    The use of NLP (neuro-linquistic programming) in church services in the U.S. is well documented.

  • emperorreagan

    I'll be curious to see the research when they extend it to parents, politicians, doctors, etc. I'd imagine it holds true for all figures one accepts as trustworthy or authorities.

  • voxmagi

    losing suspicion and developing into a passive trusting state by a relationship with something that you trust and which pleases you….

    very plausible…prayer doesn't do it for me, though…it usually takes loud punk rock for me to achieve that ecstatic trusting happy state….Johnny Thunders,,,New York Dolls, Iggy Pop…something along that line…but it is a nice feeling. I can see why people would go back every sunday for it.

  • justagirl

    i'm wondering what kind of prayers they were listening to. were they the same prayers that people have to memorize in order to fit in at church (e.g. “our father, who art in heaven”…(cue monkey w/ cymbols), or, were they meaningful prayers – special to someone's heart? listening to prayers that you tried hard to memorize in order to fit in – in my opinion – makes the brain a useless recorder. a heart felt prayer with meaning and purpose is a whole other matter… for those who pray.

  • http://cybercasualty.com The JoeBot

    The people I have known who look to faith-healers, energy-workers, and magic iconography for power are usually prone to getting snookered. That doesn't mean that the juju doesn't work–only that it works at the expense of rationality. Whether the results are positive or negative, legitimate or completely bogus, it is clear that the power of faith-healers begins with the uncritical believer.

    Having seen the cult of Obama whipped up into a utopian frenzy, I would like to see the results of such a brain study done on a sample of Tea Party protesters, moderate Democrats, and head-over-heels Obama supporters. Put them in front of a screen, play them some snappy Obama speeches, and see how well their vigilance-cortex holds up.

    I suspect that the results would be very similar to the one done on Pentacostals. Having seen otherwise intelligent people chant “Yes we can” at television screens, it makes me nervous to think that the quick-wits who ridicule fundamentalist rubes would then not only trust a politician, but actually believe in him.

    I would sooner trust a stripper with my wallet than trust a talking head with my heart.

  • missingthepoint

    Funny how everyone recognizes there is a relationship of trust as well as it working at the expensive or rationality, but nobody explicitly talks about it working at YOUR expense, FOR the authority figure. Just consider what might happen if you had that attitude toward YOURSELF. Sure, reality is going to win out in the end, but that's very different from giving it away to some supposed authority figure isn't it?

    Just as a real authority does not need your faith, neither does reality need you to believe in it to be true – so there is no reason not to suspend your belief as an experiment if nothing else. But just because people are non-religious this does not mean they have no beliefs, they may very well have negative beliefs toward religion and otherwise adhere to what they think is a rational world view, but again there is absolutely no need to hold those beliefs if they are true, because those things would remain as is regardless of what you think.

    For a truly rational perspective, it only makes sense to hold beliefs conditionally for an on going refinement of understanding. This of course involves real vigilance, not the “I already knew this” attitude of fake scepticism, which is really belief in disguise.

    • http://cybercasualty.com The JoeBot

      Agreed. Knee jerk disbelief is a safe and snide way to avoid thinking. But it is a conditioned response in many people, because the genuine articles are so few and far between.

      For instance, most priests, preachers, and practitioners I have ever come across have at least some element of falshood in them. For some this falsehood is simply a willful ignorance, but many “men of God” are nothing more than liars and vampires–at least in my assessment. After a while, one begins to ignore whatever degree of Truth that may be present in any religious sect or figure in favor of his trusty Disbelief.

      And by doing so, one lets an entire Universe of fantastic phenomena pass him by.

  • http://cybercasualty.com The JoeBot

    Agreed. Knee jerk disbelief is a safe and snide way to avoid thinking. But it is a conditioned response in many people, because the genuine articles are so few and far between.

    For instance, most priests, preachers, and practitioners I have ever come across have at least some element of falshood in them. For some this falsehood is simply a willful ignorance, but many “men of God” are nothing more than liars and vampires–at least in my assessment. After a while, one begins to ignore whatever degree of Truth that may be present in any religious sect or figure in favor of his trusty Disbelief.

    And by doing so, one lets an entire Universe of fantastic phenomena pass him by.

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