Brain Differences Found Between Believers In God And Non-believers

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mdg (March 05, 2009, 07:46:05 AM):
I came across this article this morning about how faith in a god can help to reduce stress and block anxiety. According to Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, there are distinct differences in the brains of believers and non believers.

Quote from: Sciencedaily
Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake. The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made.

It seems the brains of believers shows significantly less activity, and therefore less stress and anxiety, in relation to their own errors.

Quote from: Sciencedaily
"Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you're paralyzed with fear," he says. "However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we're making mistakes. If you don't experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don't make the same mistakes again and again?"
my bold.

I think that last sentence explains a lot.
Perhaps it also just easier to have someone else to blame for your mistakes....The Devil Made Me Do It.....; believers never have to accept responsibility for their mistakes.
Rigil Kent (March 05, 2009, 08:33:29 AM):
The Stroop Task is in itself an interesting research tool.

mdg (March 05, 2009, 09:15:34 AM):
I wonder if a change occurs in the brain activity of someone who was once a believer and who then becomes an atheist?
Rigil Kent (March 05, 2009, 11:00:03 AM):
There are three options:

1. Religiousness causes ACC inactivity. (possible)
2. ACC inactivity causes religiousness. (seems a bit unlikely)
3. Both ACC inactivity and religiousness have a separate but common cause (possible)

I'm leaning towards option number three, and here is why.

You don't just wake up one morning with different religious views. It takes a lot of appealing to your reasoning circuitry before abandoning faith. So maybe religion is merely a manifestation, or symptom, of one or several more fundamental causes.

Therefor I'll speculate that changing from a believer to an atheist is a byproduct of the increased use of "new" centers of the brain, while possibly shutting down some of the others.

So to answer your question, I think change in cerebral activity would have to precede or at least run concurrent with a change in religious views.

Mefiante (March 05, 2009, 12:30:41 PM):
I think that an equally plausible case could be made for religious indoctrination of children producing reduced ACC activity. Activity at various sites in the brain is neuronal activity, and it is known from neurological studies that most neural pathways are forged at a young age. Although these pathways can be changed later, it becomes increasingly difficult with age.

It is a telling feature of religion and religious instruction that jarring facts and inconsistencies are simply glossed over or swept under the god-carpet. In this way, the errors and mistakes are made to appear unimportant, and so young children habitually subjected to religious thinking do not make much use of ACC cognition, effectively preventing the proper formation of the appropriate neural pathways in favour of others that sustain religious modes of thinking.

The reluctance to give up or to change beliefs is then just the difficulty of changing neural pathways, i.e. as much a breaking of an old habit as it is a different way of thinking. As any practising psychologist will attest, many habits and behaviours are purely psychological in origin, e.g. OCD, nail biting, shyness, etc., and require for their treatment a figurative “rewiring” of the afflicted’s brain through adapting existing neural pathways and possibly forging new ones.

Ramachandran’s book Phantoms in the Brain cites some cases where modified behaviour was attended by clear changes in neuronal brain activity. In fact, using various techniques to stimulate the formation of different pathways was found to be very successful in treating certain kinds of psychological disorder. For instance, direct visual feedback was given to patients about which part(s) of their brains were being used from moment to moment, and patients could change their thought patterns essentially by willing other parts of their brains into use. On this basis, I would be very surprised if a believer who becomes an atheist (or vice versa) does not show some changes, before and after, in brain activity. Moreover, I suspect that these differences will tend to become increasingly distinct over time as the revised neural pathways take a firmer hold.



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