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Thread: brain differences between believers and nonbelievers?

  1. #1 brain differences between believers and nonbelievers? 
    Forum Freshman ylooshi's Avatar
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    Not just hold different beliefs, but they actually appear to go about the process of thinking differently.

    A paper in Psychological Science, by Michael Inzlicht, Ian McGregor, Jacob Hirsh and Kyle Nash (2009) discusses the brain activity of participants in two studies which compared the religious with the non-religious. What they discovered was the the religious participants consistently demonstrated notably less anxiety when faced with their own errors than non-religious participants.

    Here's their abstract:
    Many people derive peace of mind and purpose in life from their belief in God. For others, however, religion provides unsatisfying answers. Are there brain differences between believers and nonbelievers? Here we show that religious conviction is marked by reduced reactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a cortical system that is involved in the experience of anxiety and is important for self-regulation. In two studies, we recorded electroencephalographic neural reactivity in the ACC as participants completed a Stroop task. Results showed that stronger religious zeal and greater belief in God were associated with less firing of the ACC in response to error and with commission of fewer errors. These correlations remained strong even after we controlled for personality and cognitive ability. These results suggest that religious conviction provides a framework for understanding and acting within one's environment, thereby acting as a buffer against anxiety and minimizing the experience of error.
    Then, in their introduction:
    In a May 2006 open letter to George W. Bush, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, wrote that "whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty" (Ahmadinejad, 2006). Religion, he was convinced, is thriving. Worldwide, about 85% of people have at least some form of religious belief, with only 15% describing themselves as atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious (Zuckerman, 2005). Belief is especially widespread in the United States, with 94% of Americans believing in God, 82% saying that religion is at least fairly important to them, and 76% saying that the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God (Gallup Poll, 2008).
    To be fair, the authors admit not being sure of causality. The correlation is clear, but does religious conviction lower ACC activity or does ACC activity incline people towards religious belief. This, I think, is a provocative question and, if the latter is the case, then it might provide a direction for research in why so many humans now and throughout history have been afflicted with religious beliefs. The authors, however, indicate that they believe its the former, that religion lowers anxiety-related neural activity.

    Then next question is this: is this a good thing. Surely I can think of many instances in which I wished anxiety away, but isn't anxiety a good thing? Does it not heighten senses, make one aware of danger and risk, keep one alert to caution in risky situations? While fear can be paralyzing, and this is certainly bad, it keeps one from taking unnecessary risk or acting without considering weighing pros & cons.

    Think back to the introduction to the paper above. "Belief is especially widespread in the United States, with 94% of Americans believing in God, 82% saying that religion is at least fairly important to them, and 76% saying that the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God."

    Then look at the crime rates of the nations that have the most religiosity. "There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms (Paul 2005).

    If hyper-reduced anxiety beneficial, what, then, impacts the moral standards of nations like the United States where religiosity is among the highest in the world?

    Still, I think there's something to be said for the probability that, at least until recent times, religious belief had an evolutionary advantage. Perhaps with growing populations, diverse and often exclusive and competing beliefs (i.e. Christianity and Islam), technological advances, etc. religion is destined to be deleterious rather than an advantage.

    Source(s):

    Neural Markers of Religious Conviction
    Psychological Science
    Volume 20, Issue 3, Date: March 2009, Pages: 385-392
    Michael Inzlicht, Ian McGregor, Jacob B. Hirsh, Kyle Nash

    Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies
    Journal of Religion and Society
    Volume 7, 2005
    Gregory S. Paul
    http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.html


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    Forum Ph.D. Darius's Avatar
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    I can't believe you're dancing around it. Anxiety? That's all you're on about? The results clearly show something far more important: Religious people experience far less emotional kickback from error, allowing them to repeat those errors far more often than those without such a luxury.

    Ever wonder why you can drill a theist for years and never get them to admit to any fault, even in the same conversation? This, right here. Their brain simply isn't wired to punish them for getting anything wrong, because they don't need it. This isn't an adaptation, it's a trimming of fat the brain undergoes for parts it doesn't use. "Why do you believe in god?"
    "The bible says so"
    "Who wrote the bible?"
    "God"
    "You just committed a circular logic fallacy. How can you prove God wrote it?"
    "The bible says so"
    "How can you prove the bible is accurate?"
    "God wrote it"
    The list goes on. Theistic reasoning can continue like this indefinitely because there is absolutely no error checking. That's why this part of the brain effectively shuts down. They don't use it, so it doesn't get exercise.


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    "In dishonorable things we are not bound to obey any man." - The Book of the Courtier [1561], pg 99 (144 in pdf)
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    Forum Masters Degree samcdkey's Avatar
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    What does ACC activity represent? What happens when ACC is active?
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    Forum Ph.D. Darius's Avatar
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    It's just like I said: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anterio...tection_theory

    It's involved in error detection. This is why theists [Insult Removed]: Their brains are literally not checking for errors. This is exactly what allows for evangelicals to have a high IQ, yet next to no logical reasoning capability when it comes to their own faith.
    Om mani padme hum

    "In dishonorable things we are not bound to obey any man." - The Book of the Courtier [1561], pg 99 (144 in pdf)
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    Please, let's avoid deliberately provocative insults.
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    Administrator KALSTER's Avatar
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    Are emotions factual? Do they only have meaning when analysed with empirical methods? Is subjective reality worthless and/or not worthy of contemplation?
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

    "Gullibility kills" - Carl Sagan
    "All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we chose to distort it." - Harry Block
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle
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    Forum Ph.D. Darius's Avatar
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    Do your questions have any real meaning whatsoever?
    Om mani padme hum

    "In dishonorable things we are not bound to obey any man." - The Book of the Courtier [1561], pg 99 (144 in pdf)
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    Administrator KALSTER's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darius
    Do your questions have any real meaning whatsoever?
    That's my question.
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

    "Gullibility kills" - Carl Sagan
    "All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we chose to distort it." - Harry Block
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle
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    i agree with darius and the article on this.
    myself, i feel physical pain whenever i'm wrong, and i'm notoriously cautious about nearly everything.
    this does have a clear evolutionary disadvantage too.
    isn't there a saying, women are attracted to confident men?
    well, what man is more confident than a deeply religious fundamentalist?
    but what does it say about deeply religious people who become atheist?

    matt dillahunty from atheist experience for example, was a deeply religious fundamentalist, turned atheist.
    i'll say he goes with his conviction of atheism now, as strongly as his conviction of fundamentalist christianity.
    when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth
    A.C Doyle
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    Confidence often results in higher charisma--it might also confer the advantage of decisiveness as a coordinated group that could be used to accomplish thing otherwise difficult things such as wipe out a competitive tribe; build a dam; take a great journey to follow a group of animals etc.
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    I believe there were some similar studies published about a year ago showing the same sorts of results in the brains of "conservative" vs. "liberal" people, where the conservatives had statistically significant less overall ACC activity.
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    The conservative party has, in recent years, managed to be conflated with religious conservatives. This has successfully turned the once good conservative party into a band of neo-conservative religious nuts. Believing in less government influence, more individual freedom, and fewer taxes, does not make your ACC go down. Rather, it is the recent correlation that "republican" means "religious conservative" that has drawn all sorts of religious people to that end of the political spectrum.

    Meanwhile, most atheists are liberal, as are most scientists, etc. Why? Because "liberals" have successfully marketed their political party to mean something more enlightened. "conservative" is now a dirty word, and "liberal" is now one that shows intelligence simply by use. These campaign tactics have severely shifted, and forever damaged, Americas political future.
    Om mani padme hum

    "In dishonorable things we are not bound to obey any man." - The Book of the Courtier [1561], pg 99 (144 in pdf)
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  14. #13  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darius
    The conservative party has, in recent years, managed to be conflated with religious conservatives. This has successfully turned the once good conservative party into a band of neo-conservative religious nuts.
    Yeah...because if there's one thing that would be sure to piss Jesus off, it would be a party that wanted to give to the poor, heal the sick, etc.
    Believing in less government influence, more individual freedom, and fewer taxes, does not make your ACC go down.
    Are you sure? It's certainly possible that the lack of ACC activity was caused by the large overlap between religious people and conservative people, but who knows, maybe it's the other way around; conservative people tend to have lower ACC activity, and religious people therefor tend to have lower ACC activity because they tend to be conservative.

    Tests have shown that being "conservative" is associated with an unwillingness to change their behavior. Since that's pretty much the definition of "conservative," it wouldn't surprise me if it really was associated with the political orientation rather than (or in addition to) religion.
    Meanwhile, most atheists are liberal, as are most scientists, etc. Why? Because "liberals" have successfully marketed their political party to mean something more enlightened.
    Actually I think the "conservatives" pretty much did that on their own when they decided to become the party for people who believe the earth is 10k years old.
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    Forum Ph.D. Darius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    Are you sure? It's certainly possible that the lack of ACC activity was caused by the large overlap between religious people and conservative people, but who knows, maybe it's the other way around; conservative people tend to have lower ACC activity, and religious people therefor tend to have lower ACC activity because they tend to be conservative.
    That makes absolutely no less. In fact, it makes less than no sense. It makes so much negative sense you've made me dumber just by reading it. Religion, as described, is the very doctrine of not thinking and self contradiction. The conservative party, on the other hand, is completely different by way of not being a religion. Or at least it never used to be.

    Tests have shown that being "conservative" is associated with an unwillingness to change their behavior. Since that's pretty much the definition of "conservative," it wouldn't surprise me if it really was associated with the political orientation rather than (or in addition to) religion.
    See what I mean? Chances are you're a liberal yourself. Conservative has been indoctrinated to many to mean bad things by default. Thirty or so years ago, though, the conservative party was a huge economic boon to society, because it would cut the bureaucracy bullshit it opposed and work to strengthen the people rather than government. Not that it does so anymore, though, thanks to the flood of neoconservatives taking the party over.

    Actually I think the "conservatives" pretty much did that on their own when they decided to become the party for people who believe the earth is 10k years old.
    They did not "decide" this. Neoconservatives took the party over and that was the end of it, and liberals capitalized on it by appearing as saviors. Need I list Obama as an example here? People are calling him a superhero even. I'm about to puke.
    Om mani padme hum

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darius
    That makes absolutely no less. In fact, it makes less than no sense. It makes so much negative sense you've made me dumber just by reading it. Religion, as described, is the very doctrine of not thinking and self contradiction.

    The conservative party, on the other hand, is completely different by way of not being a religion. Or at least it never used to be.
    Since you are conservative but not religious, you want to blame the correlation between low ACC activity and conservatism on the large group of religious people who happen to be conservative. That certainly might be the case, but so far as I know there is no evidence showing this.
    They did not "decide" this. Neoconservatives took the party over and that was the end of it, and liberals capitalized on it by appearing as saviors. Need I list Obama as an example here? People are calling him a superhero even. I'm about to puke.
    The rank-and-file voting members of the party might not have decided it, but the party leadership certainly seems to have made a strategic decision to pander to the more religious voters.
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  17. #16  
    Forum Ph.D. Darius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    Since you are conservative but not religious, you want to blame the correlation between low ACC activity and conservatism on the large group of religious people who happen to be conservative. That certainly might be the case, but so far as I know there is no evidence showing this.
    Check statistics. The majority of conservatives are religious, and ALL fundies are conservative.

    Incidentally, I don't recall saying I'm a conservative. By old definition, I suppose my values lean toward the party, but I do not identify myself with it. Indeed, I view party identification as a serious problem, because it allows for ideology to be indoctrinated into the minds of youth.
    Om mani padme hum

    "In dishonorable things we are not bound to obey any man." - The Book of the Courtier [1561], pg 99 (144 in pdf)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darius
    Check statistics. The majority of conservatives are religious, and ALL fundies are conservative.
    Yes, that is surely true. But that doesn't mean that people who self-identify as conservative have lower average ACC activity because the conservative average is dragged down by the disproportionate number of religious people who are conservative. It's possible that religious people tend to have lower average ACC activity because their average is dragged down by all the conservatives who are disproportionately religious. So far as I know, no one has checked.

    It would certainly be very interesting to see a study that tried to untangle the issue.
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  19. #18  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    I believe there were some similar studies published about a year ago showing the same sorts of results in the brains of "conservative" vs. "liberal" people, where the conservatives had statistically significant less overall ACC activity.
    This is interesting. I read a study about death primers making people more conservative in their views, wheras life primers make people more liberal in their views.

    Would you say that serious mistakes occur more often in a dangerous environment? If so, it seems adaptable that those with the most perceived threats would have less fear than those with less perceived threats... it's relative, in a way

    The question is whether or not religions are wrongfully painting a threatening image of the world.
    Dick, be Frank.

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