Researchers find brain differences between believers and non-believers

Mar 04, 2009

Believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress, according to new University of Toronto research that shows distinct brain differences between believers and non-believers.

In two studies led by Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, participants performed a Stroop task - a well-known test of cognitive control - while hooked up to electrodes that measured their brain activity.

Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake. The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made.

"You could think of this part of the brain like a cortical alarm bell that rings when an individual has just made a mistake or experiences uncertainty," says lead author Inzlicht, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Toronto Scarborough. "We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They're much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error."

These correlations remained strong even after controlling for personality and cognitive ability, says Inzlicht, who also found that religious participants made fewer errors on the Stroop task than their non-believing counterparts.

Their findings show religious belief has a calming effect on its devotees, which makes them less likely to feel anxious about making errors or facing the unknown. But Inzlicht cautions that anxiety is a "double-edged sword" which is at times necessary and helpful.

"Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you're paralyzed with fear," he says. "However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we're making mistakes. If you don't experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don't make the same mistakes again and again?"

The study is appearing online now in Psychological Science.

Source: University of Toronto

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Nevertheless
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2009
"...make the same mistakes again and again?"

I personally would rather have such dynamics under cortical control, not the more primitive brain regions.
JerryPark
2.3 / 5 (8) Mar 04, 2009
"...the fewer errors they made..."

Performance is shown to actually improve for people of faith. Good news indeed.
AeonInfinitus
5 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2009
Divorce rates are shown to be higher across the board for people of faith, versus atheists and agnostics. Just an interesting added perspective.
LuckyBrandon
3.3 / 5 (12) Mar 04, 2009
ok this is just a bogus research thing here. Its extremely obvious that someone who believes in some sort of higher power will have less anxiety and stress...I mean seriously, they think the tooth fairy (aka God) is watching over them to make things ok. Dumb as all hell if you ask me....

I think Hawking said it best.."I find it amazing that even those who believe everything is predetermined, still look both ways before crossing the street".
Velanarris
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 04, 2009
The world militaries has known this for a long time. That's why they typically indoctrinate forces with Godspeak from day one. It breeds a less fearful and more decisive soldier. It also allows for self-absolution of guilt in performing murderous acts and attrocities.
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2009
Just like "global warming", there can't POSSIBLY be ANYTHING good about religion can there...
Mercury_01
3.2 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2009
Youre wrong if you think believers think God is watching over them to make sure everthings ok. God is not some character who does good deeds. You make yourself look foolish when you talk about something you know absolutely nothing abuout, "lucky"
fixer
5 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2009
Take ownership of your own mistakes and learn from them.
nxtr
3.1 / 5 (7) Mar 04, 2009
Why worry about making mistakes...God will fix it for them later. "Mistake opium" is not something with which I would like to drench my brain. If drinking the religious kool-aid is attributed to this something good, then I guess I will live with the bad side effects of my secular humanist reality, such as owning my mistakes, and suffering the anxiety of their responsibility.
la7dfa
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2009
One thing I dont understand is why many religious people claim God can heal e.g. cancer and still they go to a doctor. ;)

Everything points to a world free of Gods. Just ask any amputee if God has made their limbs grow back to normal.
brant
3 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2009
People are not used to handling their mistakes, thats why their nervous....

I believe in the tooth fairy and am happy all the time....
Modernmystic
2.4 / 5 (10) Mar 04, 2009
One thing I dont understand is why many religious people claim God can heal e.g. cancer and still they go to a doctor. ;)

Everything points to a world free of Gods. Just ask any amputee if God has made their limbs grow back to normal.


WOW now that's intelligent. Why do people who don't believe in God use homeopathic medicine, or use acupuncture?

Pretentious hypocrites....pftt.
SparkyMetal
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2009
Interesting interpretation of neutral data. Perhaps because religion is an externally derived value base believers experience less personal responsibility for errors. This has certainly been my experience with the religious types; "it's only a sin if someone's looking". The interpretation could have been just as easily slanted to: "believers feel less personal responsibility for errors and therefore experience less stress that interferes with performance". Anything can be interpreted any way; it's all about one's biases.
analogmonster
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 04, 2009
The question not asked here: Is the noted lack of brain activity due to believing, or believing due to lack of that brain activity?
Damon_Hastings
2.7 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2009
So what happens if religious conviction becomes so absolute that all personal uncertainty is erased, regardless of what deeds that person might commit? What type of person results?
Mercury_01
2.9 / 5 (7) Mar 05, 2009
Damon, for that person, It would no longer be a matter of belief, but pure knowing. That kind of person is rare and powerful. These are the ones willing to perform private miracles, unconcerned with whether or not anyone else believes.

And for you invalids, your anti religious beliefs are just as religious, by definition, as the christian fundamentalists on that God damned trinity channel.nobody ever said that God will cure cancer or help you win the lottery, and if anyone has, why would you listen? The truth is that all things are of God, including cancer, and the point of life is not to be happy and healthy all the time. In case you haven't noticed, the universe is violent as it is beautiful.

Dont you see that by denouncing a thing, it becomes a personal obstacle to understanding? Wouldn't it be easier and more intelligent to come up with an educated decision based on personal experience, rather than supposed dogma, be it religious or anti- religious? And why would you want to be anti- anything, when you could be pro- something else? Even if you were wrong, you'd at least be in a better position to learn.

Religion is supposed to be a framework for higher learning in the realms that arent yet understood. Those things are only supposed to require faith at first, which is supposed to be followed by knowing based on personal experience. Yes, religion has been hijacked, and yes, its been perverted by morons. We all know that. Deal with it, and instead of assuming that's the whole story, why don't you take the next logical step that any worthy skeptic would take, and ask better questions, like "what is the real story?"

The truth is so much more interesting than all the BS surrounding mainstream religion. Move on.
murray
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2009
This research helps debunk the notion that science and non-belief are as much a religion as religion based on belief in supernatural powers. The brain activity measurements indicate significant differences between relgious and non-religious.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (5) Mar 05, 2009
This research helps debunk the notion that science and non-belief are as much a religion as religion based on belief in supernatural powers. The brain activity measurements indicate significant differences between relgious and non-religious.


Um WRONG. Those arguments are based in logic, not brain patterns...
AdvancedAtheist
5 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2009
I find it ironic that people invoke these kinds of studies to try to validate religious belief. If you want to argue that religious belief allegedly makes people healthier, less anxious, more economically productive, etc., then you reveal a fundamentally secular orientation: You want to improve people's lives in this world, just like the secular humanists.

Christians living in premodern times would have found this sort of apologetics fundamentally wrong headed, heretical and perverse. The Calvinists, especially, argued that humans stand in a state of perilous alienation from their god, and we should seek a relationship with it to appease it and keep it from destroying us, not because of worldly lifestyle considerations like improving one's married sex life (a current fad in American Christianity).
VOR
1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2009
I have long acknowledged that religion has its benefits, including fellowship. But with its benefits there is much disfunction, especially undeserved credibiliby and power, as in war-mongering religious leaders. In the end there is simply no getting around the reality that faith is utterly irrational and there is no compelling evidence for the existence of god or gods. And it's simply moronic to claim that non-belief is the same (a religion) as belief. There are other ways to reduce anxiety. Start by trying to believe in yourself.
freethinking
1 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2009
For Christian replying that this study is good and proves that Christianity is good, forget it. You need to get back to Basics.... Christianity is not a Religion. The accurate definition of religion is "working to or striving for salvation..." With Christianity.... salvation is a gift...

Now if this study did just focus on Christianity... one of the Gifts of Christianity is inner peace.

But I do not believe that there are any brain differences between religious people and non-religious people as I have seen religious people (ok.... Im using the common definition of religious) become non-religious and non-relgious become very religious. Also if there truely is a brain difference is it cause or effect. And if there is a difference (jab intended for athiest here) then since most people are religious, then the brains of the religious people are the normal brains... then the fact is athiest are brain damaged...(just kidding, just a jab....)
Modernmystic
2 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2009
For Christian replying that this study is good and proves that Christianity is good, forget it. You need to get back to Basics.... Christianity is not a Religion. The accurate definition of religion is "working to or striving for salvation..." With Christianity.... salvation is a gift...


*snicker*...Never surprised at what I read here.

Religion:

http://en.wikiped...Religion

http://dictionary...religion

Interesting that on the second one Christianity is actually used IN the definition.

Bud, you're entitled to your opinion, but not do your own facts.

Christianity is in FACT a religion.
FainAvis
1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2009
It means that the religious have no BS filters.
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 05, 2009
It means that the religious have no BS filters.


I filtered your BS pretty well, so I guess we do...
Velanarris
4 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2009
Gotta love the anti religous and the religous warring that scientific website provide.

Just one point of contention I have here:

Damon, for that person, It would no longer be a matter of belief, but pure knowing. That kind of person is rare and powerful. These are the ones willing to perform private miracles, unconcerned with whether or not anyone else believes.

So you mean like Hitler, and the holocaust? What about Nebuchanezzer? He "knew" and built the tower of Bable to liken himself to God, for which he was subsequently struck down and his people scattered about the earth with confused "tounges".

I don't have a problem with religion, I have a problem with people so devote that they refuse to question some of it's constructs. That is what leads to contention between the two sides of the argument.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (3) Mar 06, 2009
What about this though. I KNOW there is a God even though I can't prove it scientifically. I know there was a first cause to the universe (cosmological argument), I see the design in the universe (strong anthropic), my religious beliefs about the existence of God are based more on science than faith.

In fact about the question of the EXISTENCE of God I have almost no faith, on the question of my Christian convictions I take those almost totally on faith.

Does that make me Hitler?
Velanarris
not rated yet Mar 06, 2009
Does that make me Hitler?

Well Modern, would you say that your faith makes you resolute in determining that your actions cannot be wrong as you are faithful or do you determine that rather than you defining your faith, that your faith defines you?

As you know I'm not an anti-religious zealot, nor am I one of the devout. I do think that everyone is entitled to their beliefs as I am entitled to mine, however, when someone becomes so entrenched in their beliefs that rather than their faith defining their character, the opposite is true, then I have a problem.

When your character defines your faith you're no longer faithful. You're an actor. Modern, you don't fit into this classification.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (3) Mar 06, 2009
Does that make me Hitler?

Well Modern, would you say that your faith makes you resolute in determining that your actions cannot be wrong as you are faithful or do you determine that rather than you defining your faith, that your faith defines you?

As you know I'm not an anti-religious zealot, nor am I one of the devout. I do think that everyone is entitled to their beliefs as I am entitled to mine, however, when someone becomes so entrenched in their beliefs that rather than their faith defining their character, the opposite is true, then I have a problem.

When your character defines your faith you're no longer faithful. You're an actor. Modern, you don't fit into this classification.


I thought that's where you were going, and I happen to agree whole heartedly.

One thing however, and this does not apply to you. I see the exact same thing on the atheist side of the house. They are as reticent to recognize it as most Theists are as well. True agnostics I don't think can suffer from this "affliction".

One thing I would like to see more true agnostics do however is do more pointing out of atheist fallicies rather than theist ones...at least try to balance it more.
AdvancedAtheist
3 / 5 (2) Mar 06, 2009
Now if this study did just focus on Christianity... one of the Gifts of Christianity is inner peace.


What about:

Buddhists 'really are happier'
http://news.bbc.c...7291.stm

And if there is a difference (jab intended for athiest here) then since most people are religious, then the brains of the religious people are the normal brains... then the fact is athiest are brain damaged...(just kidding, just a jab....)


Religious belief has imploded in most developed democratic countries, without any deliberate effort to bring this about, in apparently neurologically normal people. Gregory S. Paul discusses the phenomenon in this article:

The Big Religion Questions Finally Solved
http://www.box.ne...kzv2.pdf

Paul also discusses his article on this talkshow's podcast:

http://www.equalt...ssolved/

Velanarris
not rated yet Mar 06, 2009
One thing I would like to see more true agnostics do however is do more pointing out of atheist fallicies rather than theist ones...at least try to balance it more.
I'd like to think I'm leading that movement. As it stands I have no evidence otherwise.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Mar 06, 2009
One thing I would like to see more true agnostics do however is do more pointing out of atheist fallicies rather than theist ones...at least try to balance it more.
I'd like to think I'm leading that movement. As it stands I have no evidence otherwise.



Indeed, and thank you.
Velanarris
not rated yet Mar 06, 2009
One thing I would like to see more true agnostics do however is do more pointing out of atheist fallicies rather than theist ones...at least try to balance it more.
I'd like to think I'm leading that movement. As it stands I have no evidence otherwise.



Indeed, and thank you.

We'll convert you to the Church of FSM soon enough, oh yes we will.
Modernmystic
2 / 5 (4) Mar 06, 2009

We'll convert you to the Church of FSM soon enough, oh yes we will.



WOAH! I think I just felt a noodle on my shoulder ;P
AdseculaScientiae
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2009
One thing I dont understand is why many religious people claim God can heal e.g. cancer and still they go to a doctor. ;)

Everything points to a world free of Gods. Just ask any amputee if God has made their limbs grow back to normal.


WOW now that's intelligent. Why do people who don't believe in God use homeopathic medicine, or use acupuncture?

Pretentious hypocrites....pftt.


Wow, now that's even more intelligent.

Do you even know what atheism states about an individual? If the answer is no to the question; 'do you believe in a (theist-)God?', then you are an atheist. No more, no less.

That doesn't mean that these people don't or can't believe in anything. Far from it. Atheists can be spiritual, believe in fate, handreading, astrology etc etc.

Nothing hypocrite about that, my friend..
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (3) Mar 07, 2009

Wow, now that's even more intelligent.

Do you even know what atheism states about an individual? If the answer is no to the question; 'do you believe in a (theist-)God?', then you are an atheist. No more, no less.

That doesn't mean that these people don't or can't believe in anything. Far from it. Atheists can be spiritual, believe in fate, handreading, astrology etc etc.

Nothing hypocrite about that, my friend..


Glad someone got the point.

Do you even know what theism states about an individual? It just means we believe in a God. It doesn't mean we don't believe in modern medicine at the same time. You restated my point back to me perfectly, even though apparently my sarcasm was completely lost on you...
AdseculaScientiae
1 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2009

Wow, now that's even more intelligent.

Do you even know what atheism states about an individual? If the answer is no to the question; 'do you believe in a (theist-)God?', then you are an atheist. No more, no less.

That doesn't mean that these people don't or can't believe in anything. Far from it. Atheists can be spiritual, believe in fate, handreading, astrology etc etc.

Nothing hypocrite about that, my friend..


Glad someone got the point.

Do you even know what theism states about an individual? It just means we believe in a God. It doesn't mean we don't believe in modern medicine at the same time. You restated my point back to me perfectly, even though apparently my sarcasm was completely lost on you...



lol!

You funny man!
General_Haberdashery
not rated yet Mar 07, 2009
Calvinists, especially, argued that humans stand in a state of perilous alienation from their god, and we should seek a relationship with it to appease it and keep it from destroying us,


roflmao
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Mar 08, 2009
So the study shows less brain activity in the gullible, hardly a surprise result. It is disheartening to see that religion actually seems to kill off any sense of inquiry or reflection, leading to a downward spiral as evidenced by the religious asshole seen on this site.

Perhaps religion should be classed as a disease or at least treated as a form of ADD. Hopefully some treatment can be devised because clearly once they have been infected brain function diminishes and the vicious spiral leads to people like GWB and Westboro Baptists or even Alaskan witch hunting pentacostals.

Religion is the opium of the masses, Creationism is the crack of the subnormal.



Yeah, or for that matter why not round us up and put us in ovens...

Atheists are such cute cuddly harmless teddy bears.
physpuppy
5 / 5 (2) Mar 08, 2009
Wow I can't believe (haha) how way out this discussion has become.

Anyhow I think an important point from the article:

Their findings show religious belief has a calming effect on its devotees, which makes them less likely to feel anxious about making errors or facing the unknown.


To all religious devotees, agnostics and atheists, (did I get everyone?) I think the key part here is "calming effect" - perhaps the study should have been expanded to include practitioners of other things which are considered to be calming, such as those practicing yoga or martial arts.

Sheesh - I'd love to see the discussion here if the researchers sorted by religion and found one of them to have significant differences from the others :-)
Velanarris
5 / 5 (2) Mar 09, 2009
Religion is the opium of the masses, Creationism is the crack of the subnormal.
And socialism is the idealism of the uninformed.

Once again, not a proponent of religion, but not a detractor; however, when it comes to socialism, I'm a stark opponent.

Physpuppy has it correct. It's the calming effect of a structured exercise that is the focus of the article, not what the basis of the exercise is.
Icester
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 09, 2009
Pascal's Wager
http://en.wikiped...'s_Wager

Look it up.
Arkaleus
2.8 / 5 (6) Mar 09, 2009
Just like alchemy was the precursor to chemistry, religion is the legacy of man's attempt to explain and guide his intellect in its evolution from animal to sentience. The forms of intelligence we encounter are sublime and universal, and we project ourselves into these forms. We evolve when we do this, and there is no shame in it.

There is nothing wrong with religion so long as it is viewed in terms of its usefulness to man. Archaic religion allows preliterate societies to maintain government, law, and learning. As we become more mature and universally aware of knowledge, preliterate religion becomes obsolete and counterproductive.

Unfortunately religion is used by man as a means of social control and profit, enabled by the ignorance of others unwilling to use their own minds and make their own judgments.

The story of mankind's relationship with religion is the inspiring and often sad tale of man's own evolution and his projection of mortal mind into immortal forms. Those who hate religion often fail to see that religion and god are part of man, and they are projections of one another.

Don't discount the usefulness of religion, but don't give into primitivism or allow obsolete forms from the past to continue governing us when their interference in human evolution is harmful. When religion gets in the way of truth, it has become a cancer and must be cast off.
thales
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2009
Pascal's Wager
http://en.wikiped...'s_Wager

Look it up.

Found it.

Criticisms:
http://en.wikiped...iticisms
caw0918
2 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2009
If you are an atheist you are entitled to your own opinions...If you believe there is a God you cannot only believe in God and not the bible. YOu cannot pick apart the bible and only believe certain parts.

I also want to say.. worst case scenerio and I am wrong in believing in God I will close my eyes and that will be the end. The worst case scenerio that the non believers are wrong and well...we all know the outcome.

What do Christians do that are so bad? Living life believing in a God that is always there for you beyond any other person or anything imaginable. A feeling that you can only experience if you really get to know God. It is hard to get past the wall that the world puts up but I think if you gave God a chance you would be happier with your life..and REALLY let him into your life..
thales
not rated yet Apr 15, 2009
I also want to say.. worst case scenerio and I am wrong in believing in God I will close my eyes and that will be the end. The worst case scenerio that the non believers are wrong and well...we all know the outcome.

Caw, did you even read the previous comment? Click the link, please.