Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Neural Correlates of Arguments from Authority

...or, How You Can Use Imaging Tools to Actually See People Switching Off Their Critical Faculties In Response to Trusted Authorities. I ran across this at Chris Blattman's blog in a post titled "The Neuroscience of Faith Healing", but the explanatory power of the paper goes much further than faith-healing or even religion.

The original paper is here. Essentially, the researchers took Pentecostals and non-theists and used fMRI to look at how their brains responded to prayers read by non-Christians, non-Pentecostal Christians, and Pentecostals (in reality, all the prayers were read by non-Pentecostal Christians). A striking finding was the inactivation of parts of the brain involved in critical thinking in Pentecostals who thought they were listening to prayers by Pentecostals, but not by the other two (supposed) groups of readers. Note that one of the inactivated areas is the anterior cingulate cortex, which has appeared in previous studies as a part of the brain that was less active in theists, believed to correlate with certainty in belief.

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