Brain Stimulation May Reduce “Belief in God, Intolerance Toward Immigrants”
A new study, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, suggests that it may be possible to influence a person's religious and other beliefs by targeting a specific area of the brain with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
TMS is a procedure currently used to treat depression and it works by using magnetic energy to stimulate nerve cells in areas of the brain involved in mood control.
To conduct their study, researchers enrolled 39 students and split them into two groups. One group received a “sham” treatment that did not affect the brain, while the other group received TMS at levels that reduced activity in the posterior medial frontal cortex of the brain. Next, the team asked participants to rate their beliefs in the devil, demons and hell, as well as their beliefs in God, angels and heaven. The participants were then asked to read two essays compiled by recent immigrants; one was critical of the U.S., while the other was complimentary about the country.
The results showed that compared with participants who received the sham treatment, those who received TMS reported a 32.8 percent reduction in belief in God, angels and heaven. Additionally, the researchers found that TMS led to a 28.5 percent increase in a positive attitude toward immigrants, even in response to the critical letter.
While more research needs to be conducted to understand why TMS affects the brain in this way, the researchers said that their findings suggest that the same part of the brain responsible for basic threat-response also may be linked to a person's ideological beliefs.