Part of the brain responsible for skepticism shuts off during sermons

If you ever wondered why some of your friends or family members seem to lack a certain degree of skepticism concerning their own beliefs, you might be interested in a study conducted by the Aarhus University of Denmark. Using magnetic resonance imaging, they studied 20 Pentecostals and found when they listened to prayers recited by someone they were told was a Christian, the part of the brain normally associated with skepticism and vigilance (yes, there are parts of the brain responsible for this) shuts down.

The study found the most important factor wasn’t what the prayer was about, but rather the perceived authority of the person reading the sermons. In other words, they’ve identified the mechanism that allows charismatic religious leaders to gain influence over other people, and all that’s required is for a part of their followers brain to shut down.

This is exactly WHY I’m so fearful of religion; perfectly logical and rational people can be convinced of any absurdity once they surrender their skepticism to some silver tongued preacher. It’s scary when you think about how easy it is for some people to just shut off a part of their brain with such ease. Could there also be other parts of the brain that are affected as well? This could go a long way to explain why generally peaceful individuals can be convinced to kill in the name of their religious beliefs. The more we understand about religious belief, the more it scares the shit out of me.

Comments (4)

  • avatar

    Remi H. Winther

    …just another really great post. Thank you.

  • avatar


    cool… i’ll be passing this link along to lots of people I know.

  • avatar


    Great post Jacob. Have you read “How God Changes Your Brain” by Andrew Newberg? I bought it and haven’t started yet, but looking forward to some more info such as this.

  • avatar

    shaun mcneil

    It seems perfectly understandable when you think of it from an evolutionary stand point – our brain constantly asking the question “Safe/Not Safe”

    This reminds me of the feelings I get when I intentionally relax and let my guard down; I can feel a change in my body and without sounding new-age my breath feels lighter and chest can breath easier while my stomach relaxes more and my traps & neck muscle un-tenses themselves

    It really sucked being a believer, it really is such a load of my mind and body to ‘not be responsible for anything and everything’ the weather, other people, etc etc

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