How do believers’ brains work?

A team of American researchers is interested in what happens in the brains of believers. One of the purposes of this research was to discover how certain people can be strongly conditioned by their religion.

“We are only just beginning to understand how the brain participates in experiences that believers interpret as spiritual, divine or transcendent. »

These words are those of Jeff Anderson, neurologist at the University of Utah School of Medicine (USA), co-author of the study published on November 29, 2016 in the journal Social Neuroscience.

The researchers used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanners to observe blood flow in the brain. The latter therefore analyzed the brain activity of 19 people referring to the very popular Mormon cult in the American state of Utah and its capital, Salt Lake City.

“In recent years, brain imaging technologies have matured in ways that allow us to address questions that have existed for millennia,” continues Dr. Jeff Anderson.

It turns out that the observations of scientists have revealed that when followers listen to a sermon, the nucleus accumbens is very stressed. Here is a definition of this part of the brain taken from an educational platform of McGill University in Montreal (Canada):

“The nucleus accumbens certainly plays a central role in the reward circuitry. Its functioning is based mainly on two essential neurotransmitters: dopamine, which promotes envy and desire, and serotonin, whose effect rather reflects satiety and inhibition. It has also been demonstrated many times in animals that all drugs increase the production of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, while decreasing that of serotonin. »

This area of ​​the brain is activated when one is satisfied after having felt pleasure, such as when one smokes a cigarette or when one receives a good salary at the end of the month. This link between the simulation of this brain area and spiritual experience allows scientists to believe that religious indoctrination has its source in Pavlovian (or classical) conditioning.

This concept was used in the 19th century by Russian physician and physiologist Ivan Pavlov to explain that our body’s reflexes and natural behavior can be influenced by our environment. Almost all animal reflexes are governed by this law, but it is also possible to condition people in this way.

In 1920, American psychologist John Broadus Watson conducted the famous “Little Albert” experiment. The specialist presented a rat to a baby who tried to touch it, but with each attempt, the man scared the child by violently hitting a metal bar with a hammer. After a few repetitions, little Albert ended up being scared at the sight of the rodent. The child thus associated the scary noise with the rat.

American scientists have used their observations of brain imaging and work done on conditioning for decades to understand the functioning of the brains of believers. Although one always chooses to believe or not, this advance could guide the psychologists in charge of disindoctrinating certain people influenced by sects for example.

Sources: Live Science – EurekAlert! — Ubergizmo

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