Monday, 29 September 2008

Electro-shock horror: religion relieves pain, say scientists

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I'm not quite sure what's going on in the science labs of Oxford University, as if this story's anything to go by standards really seem to slipping. Researchers at the Oxford Centre for Science of the Mind (funded, unsurprisingly, by the John Templeton Foundation) have found evidence to suggest that having faith can help believers endure pain better than non-believers.

And how could they possibly have discovered such a thing? By getting 12 Catholics and 12 atheists into the labs and subjecting them to electro-shock treatment while they studied Sassoferrato's Virgin Annunciate, a 17th century painting of the Virgin Mary, and Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine, a 15th century non-religious painting.

The volunteers had to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 100, and the Catholics reported 12 per cent less pain after they had looked at the painting of the Virgin Mary, while brain scans showed that "the neural mechanisms of pain modulation had been engaged", something that didn't happen with the atheists.

The Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, who you may know from his statement "Gender-bending was so last century; we now do species bending" in relation to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, was delighted with the findings, telling newspapers he was not surprised by the results:

"The practice of faith should, and in many cases does, alter the person you are. It can affect the patterns of your brain and your emotions. So it comes as no surprise to me that this experiment has reached such conclusions."

So there you have it. Next time you visit the dentist, just ask for a picture of a virgin to look at while they're whipping out your wisdom teeth. Just make sure you specify that you want a picture of the Virgin Mary, or you could land yourself in a lot of trouble.


X_ said...

It's an absolutely retarded study from the methodological (how it was carried out) point of view.

So you give something specific to the catholic core faith to the catholics, something that they strongly believe will lead them good, to focus on.

Then you give something randomly non-religious to the atheists for them to focus on.

Was there any attempt to justify this? Like getting the atheists to give an example of something they greatly enjoy, believe in, or something that greatly relaxes them, then using that instead of some random painting that none of them cared about?

It's retarded. The virgin mary is an extremely strong symbol to catholics. Da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine, while a good painting, may or may not mean anything to anyone. The experiment was ridiculously unbalanced.

If any psychology student even proposed this study while working on their degree, it'd be shot down by their supervisor for exactly those reasons.

Tom Rees said...

It's actually a perfectly good study, tho a little badly reported. It's already well known that religious fervour can reduce sensations of pain. What this study shows is that the bit of the brain responsible is the same bit as is responsible for the familiar placebo effect. In other words, catholicism is a bit like taking a sugar pill...

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