Science Discovery: Brain Shut-off Mechanism

Eureka!  I may have found it at long last!  I’ve been searching madly for the reason why fundamentalist/evangelical Christians appear to be so gullible when it comes to politics.  Thanks to researchers in Denmark, I think I have discovered the reason.

I have hypothesized that there is something about the brains of that group of Christians that makes them easy ‘targets’ for political propaganda.  It seems odd to me that so many of them adhere to the ideology of the Republican Party when, in fact, that party often acts and votes in ways that are in direct contradiction to what Jesus taught.

“When we fall under the spell of a charismatic figure,” says Uffe Schjødt of Aarhus University in Denmark and his colleagues, “areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active.” That’s the finding of a study which looked at people’s response to prayers spoken by someone purportedly possessing divine healing powers.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Schjødt and his colleagues scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostalists and 20 non-believers while playing them recorded prayers. The volunteers were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian and six by a healer. In fact, all were read by ordinary Christians.

Only in the devout volunteers did the brain activity monitored by the researchers change in response to the prayers. Parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, which play key roles in vigilance and scepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say, were deactivated when the subjects listened to a supposed healer. Activity diminished to a lesser extent when the speaker was supposedly a normal Christian.

Schjødt says that this explains why certain individuals can gain influence over others, and concludes that their ability to do so depends heavily on preconceived notions of their authority and trustworthiness.

‘Authority.’  I’ve been saying this for many, many months and finally there is some proof of my conjecture. That group of Christians kowtow to authority and will believe their ministers as well as good propagandists- those of talk-radio, for example.

“Areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active,” says the report.  Indeed so.  Brainwashed might be an appropriate term here.  I wonder if, in fact, this new theory might be extended to those non-evangelicals on the far-right side of the political spectrum- the ones who believe so deeply in those conspiracy theories.  Is the brain of people on the right-side of the center of the political spectrum similar to that described above?

You betcha!



6 thoughts on “Science Discovery: Brain Shut-off Mechanism

  1. Sorta like the survival mechanism of your local hog nosed snake.
    I had a house up on Secor Rd. in Temperance back in the 1970’s with a few acres of property. I had to mow the lawn a few times over the sumnmer I lived there and there were many hog nosed snakes. They’d puff up and hiss when threatened, but then they’d just short out and act kind of like they were dead.
    The real apocalypse vor them was when you ran over them with the lawn mower…I never did it on purpose, but after i would cut an area of grass, there would be all these stupid inert snakes all over the lawn.
    If you ignored them, they would come to 20 minutes later and crawl off like nothing happened and look for more toads.

  2. Likewise, the mind is wired so that it wants to have your ideas confirmed and fights ideas which conflict with your beliefs.

    So, that if you believe that by letting the rich get richer, the wealth will “trickle down” to the rest of us, you are not likely to believe ideas which challenge that assumption. The concept that equality is better than having vast disparity between rich and poor can be derided even if there is proof that equality leads to fewer social ills.

    Likewise, it can be shown that the arts can help improve economic wealth, but if you believe that the “arts are for the elite”…

    Get the picture?

  3. Laci, that goes a long way to explain the phenomena of organized religion.
    I think the snakes in my story all thought that my lawnmower was god.

  4. When I was growing up evangelical, the Baptist sect that I was a part of -GARBC – was a much more cerebral church. The study of theology was a serious matter. I know that sounds rediculous, but theology is just like any other philosophy; it demands scholarly discipline. The GARBC’s history, interesting enough, has been handed down from the UK and London in the late 1800 by the great evangelical Charles Spurgeon. When I went to Bible Seminary (my first try at a college degree – little did I know I was handicapped by ADD) after High School. The study of theology was insanely demanding. If I would have stayed at seminary I would have come away fluent in writing greek and hebrew (over 60 credit hours total of language study). So it wasn’t a joke! But I think that one of the problems with modern evangelicalism is that somehow the emotionalism of Pentecostalism and the southern evangelical sects have taken over and so in a way modern theology is also in the process of “Being dumbed down” to appeal to emotianalism and the widest possible audience. In order to make a leap of faith, you have to have the cognitive faculties to know why and what the implications are involved in your leap of faith. This cognitive step, as far as I can see, has been suplanted. I have no idea how this happened. I think the rise of the “mega church” as sort of a business model to attract the largest audience and the largest amount of money, has dumbed down the faith. So that’s why I think, you are seeing more and more of these idiot preachers and idiot evangelicals making fools out of themselves. I remember my pastor growing up, this guy was a genious! He never dumbed down his sermons, he demanded critical thinking about faith, and he NEVER mixed popular culture / politics / social issues – with the serious study of biblical theology. I can say for certain, that if I had never stepped foot in a classroom, I would still have the logic and reasoning abilities I do now. And I owe it all to my pastor growing up who demanding critical thinking abilities of his flock. I know that sounds crazy, but it is the truth, the evangelical movement of the 70’s and 80’s is a completely different animal than what it is today. My parents often ask me why I won’t go to church with them. And I think the answer is that the church has left me. I would like it to get back to teaching about Christ and the ministry of Jesus, and forget these transient and ever changing political and social issues that seem to have swamped it. Even though I am for all practical purposes an agnostic now, I still feel that theologic study is a very worthwhile philosophy to study because in a way it is the study of ourselves and of mankinds history with the unknown and unknowable.

  5. steve- thank you for your deeply personal comment. i respect both your history and where you are today. As a graduate of a Jesuit university, I, too, took innumerable theology and philosophy courses that challenged my brain and, frankly, my faith. I have a feeling that catholic theology differs from Baptist theology in one important way- less emphasis on the OT.

    I never can get my mind around that history/mythology book, yet so many present-day evangelicals seem to be drawn to it like a magnet. What ‘truths’ they find there again escapes me altogether. It is myth and midrash and heavily borrowed from older Semitic and Sumerian civilizations.

    ‘Truths’ are always punitive as is their ‘god.’ Too much violence for me.

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