Pain relief is enhanced by religious beliefs
An fMRI study has shown that pain relief can be enhanced by religious beliefs, and the mechanism by which this takes place.
It shows that the part of the brain (the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, VLPFC) that lights up when you experience a placebo relief from pain is the same part that lights up when religious people feel pain relief when viewing a religious image. In other words, their religious belief is activating pathways in the brain that are also activated during the placebo effect.
This is the abstract of the article:
Although religious belief is often claimed to help with physical ailments including pain, it is unclear what psychological and neural mechanisms underlie the influence of religious belief on pain. By analogy to other top‐down processes of pain modulation we hypothesized that religious belief helps believers reinterpret the emotional significance of pain, leading to emotional detachment from it. Recent findings on emotion regulation support a role for the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC), a region also important for driving top‐down pain inhibitory circuits. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging in practicing Catholics and avowed atheists and agnostics during painful stimulation, here we show the existence of a context‐dependent form of analgesia that was triggered by the presentation of an image with a religious content but not by the presentation of a non‐religious image. As confirmed by behavioral data, contemplation of the religious image enabled the religious group to detach themselves from the experience of pain. Critically, this context‐dependent modulation of pain specifically engaged the right VLPFC, whereas group‐specific preferential liking of one of the pictures was associated with activation in the ventral midbrain. We suggest that religious belief might provide a framework that allows individuals to engage known pain‐regulatory brain processes.
An fMRI study measuring analgesia enhanced by religion as a belief system
Wiech, Katjaa; Farias, Miguel; Kahane, Guy; Shackel, Nicholas; Tiede, Wiebke; Tracey, Irene
Pain. 15 October 2008 - Volume 139 - Issue 2 - p 467–476 doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2008.07.030