(The more I think about this article, the more I feel it's open for wide interpretation. If the subject interests you, I recommend you follow the link to the complete article for more details.)
A team of researchers recently took a close look at a small area of the brain called the anterior cingulated cortex, or ACC. According to research leader Michael Inzlicht, the ACC tells us when something is wrong, as when we've made a mistake.
"When it's fired, the response engendered is 'uh-oh, pay attention, something is amiss here'," says Inzlicht, a neuroscientist at the University of Toronto.
- Among his findings are that people of a religious persuasion have less of an ACC ‘uh-oh’ response than non-religious types when they make an error on a simple test.
- On the other hand, people with known anxiety disorders tend to show high activity in the ACC when they make a mistake.
However, Inzlicht suspects that religious belief is driving the association. In unpublished experiments, Inzlicht's team asked religious volunteers to describe in writing either their faith or their favourite season. Those who wrote about their connection to God exhibited reduced ACC activation, compared with people who described the weather.Inzlicht's team tested 50 university students from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Christians made up most participants, but his team also tested Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists.
Inzlicht says it would be interesting to test people as their religious devotion strengthens or weakens over time to see if ACC activation changes accordingly. This could help confirm the correct explanation for the lower ACC activity.
"It's a very provocative finding and it is consistent with a lot of other things we know about religion" says Ara Norenzayan, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. This might explain why religious belief seems to blunt feelings of anxiety.
Click here for the complete New Scientist article.