Religious Beliefs and Ethnocentric

Scientists from the University of York have found a way of performing mind control. By directing magnetic force towards the posterior medial frontal cortex of the brain, they were able to reduce belief in God and decrease intolerance towards immigrants. This part of the brain is located near the surface, roughly a few inches up from the forehead, and is associated with detecting and solving problems.

In the study, half the participants were given a low-level amount of energy that would have not affected their brains, and the other half received enough magnetic energy to lower activity in that area of the brain.

The scientists from the University of York and a team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that people whose targeted brain region was temporarily shut down reported 32.8 per cent less belief in God, angels, or heaven.

They were also 28.5 per cent more positive in their feelings towards an immigrant who criticised their country.

Dr Keise Izuma, from the University Of York’s Department of Psychology, said: “People often turn to ideology when they are confronted by problems.

“We wanted to find out whether a brain region that is linked with solving concrete problems, like deciding how to move one’s body to overcome an obstacle, is also involved in solving abstract problems addressed by ideology.”

The team wanted to find out whether religious ideology and anti-immigrant sentiment were used as a trigger response to problems, such as the worry of death and threats to the country.

Dr Izuma added: “We decided to remind people of death because previous research has shown that people turn to religion for comfort in the face of death.

“As expected, we found that when we experimentally turned down the posterior medial frontal cortex, people were less inclined to reach for comforting religious ideas despite having been reminded of death.”

The lead author of the paper, Dr Colin Holbrook, from UCLA, expanded on this. He said: “These findings are very striking, and consistent with the idea that brain mechanisms that evolved for relatively basic threat-response functions are repurposed to also produce ideological reactions.

“However, more research is needed to understand exactly how and why religious beliefs and ethnocentric attitudes were reduced in this experiment.”