This is an fMRI study on how Christian faith healers influence the brains of believers and non-believers. It is an absolutely remarkable experiment when you think about it but I still don’t know quite what to make of it.
The power of charisma–perceived charisma inhibits the frontal executive network of believers in intercessory prayer.
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2010 Mar 12. [Epub ahead of print]
Schjoedt U, St√∏dkilde-J√∏rgensen H, Geertz AW, Lund TE, Roepstorff A.
This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how assumptions about speakers’ abilities changed the evoked BOLD response [changes in blood oxygenation indicating neural activity] in secular and Christian participants who received intercessory prayer. We find that recipients’ assumptions about senders’ charismatic abilities have important effects on their executive network. Most notably, the Christian participants deactivated the frontal network consisting of the medial and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally in response to speakers who they believed had healing abilities. An independent analysis across subjects revealed that this deactivation predicted the Christian participants’ subsequent ratings of the speakers’ charisma and experience of God’s presence during prayer. These observations point to an important mechanism of authority that may facilitate charismatic influence, a mechanism which is likely to be present in other interpersonal interactions as well.
There’s a write-up over at the excellent Inkling Magazine if you want more.