A fun and interesting study was published online at Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq023) that investigates what happens in people’s brains when they are listening to a charismatic authority. Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark played prayers for subjects who were led to believe the prayers were read either by a non-Christian, an ordinary Christian, or a Christian known for their healing powers, when in fact the recordings were made by regular guys. Participants were either very religious and professed a belief in the ability of prayers to heal, or secular, and had little belief in the healing power of prayer. After hearing the prayers the subjects were asked to rate the speakers on their charisma and indicate which prayers made the listeners feel “God’s presence” (on, of course, the God presence scale of 1 to 10). The results were not necessarily surprising; the Christians thought the speakers they were told had healing powers were the most charismatic and they felt closer to God the most during these prayers, while the secular subjects rated all speakers the same and found the speakers overall to be less charismatic than the Christians. What was neat about this study was that all of this was conducted while the participants were in an fMRI machine so that the researchers could measure brain activity while the prayers were being read. … continue reading this entry.