Researchers recruited 36 male and female participants; about
half were devout Christians from the Pentecostal church, while the other
half were non-religious.
The participants who considered themselves religious believed that some
people could possess divine powers of healing. The non-religious
participants did not believe this.
Each person listened to 18 different prayers performed by three different
people - a Christian, a non-Christian and a Christian known for their
''healing'' powers - while undergoing a brain scan. (In reality, all three
speakers were ''ordinary'' Christians, with no reported healing powers.)
After the scan, participants were asked to rate each speaker's charisma.
The devout Christians in the study rated the speaker presented as a divine
healer as the most charismatic, while they voted the non-Christian speaker
as the least charismatic.
When the researchers looked at the brain scans from the devout Christians,
they found a decrease in activity in parts of the prefrontal cortex that
control scepticism when the ''healer'' was speaking. The reverse - an
increase in activity - was found in response to the non-Christian speaker.
In situations of scepticism or mistrust, areas at the front of the brain
become extra-vigilant and mobilise more attention to check for errors, said
the leader of the research, Uffe Schjoedt of Aarhus University in Denmark.
''But in situations of trust it seems as if this vigilance is decreased,''
Mr Schjoedt said the Christian participants appeared to be modulating their
brain activity based on an assumption of each speaker's charismatic ability
or healing powers.
The brain scans of the non-religious participants didn't show any change in
activity when listening to the three speakers.
He said the results of the study were probably not limited to religious
figures. ''Doctors, teachers, parents and other authority figures, whom you
expect to be trustworthy, may have this effect on your brain.''