Friday, March 6, 2009

This is your brain ... on God

Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, University of Toronoto, found differences in brain responses to anxiety and stress in believers and non-believers. Using a standard cognitive psychology test, the Stroop task, which measures brain activity, Inzlicht found:
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.
This correlation between brain activity, errors made, and religiosity still held when correcting for personality and cognitive ability, to which Inzlicht concludes:
... [R]eligious belief has a calming effect on its devotees, which makes them less likely to feel anxious about making errors or facing the unknown. But Inzlicht cautions that anxiety is a "double-edged sword" which is at times necessary and helpful.

"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?"

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe in the findings. And I'm willing to believe most of them are catholics. We know if we make a mistake, all we have to do is go to confession and hope that the priest has 'gotten some' from the alter boys and will be in a good mood. Othewise, we will have tons of hail marys & our fathers to say as penance.

But seriously, religion can mess with you and make you think that you are always forgiven. That is bad.