Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Of This Area Of The Brain Can Reduce Belief In God And Prejudice Against Immigrants

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, a procedure currently used to treat depression, can actually reduce a person’s belief in God and reduce their prejudice against immigrants, researchers claim. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells found within the brain. TMS uses a large electromagnetic coil is placed against a subject’s scalp near their forehead, the Mayo Clinic reports. The electromagnet used in transcranial magnetic stimulation has now been found to be able to affect a particular region of the brain involved in detecting and solving problems, known as the posterior medial frontal cortex.

“The posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) plays a key role in both detecting discrepancies between desired and current conditions and adjusting subsequent behavior to resolve such conflicts,” the authors wrote. The paper asserts that it is the first evidence that group prejudice and religious belief can be targeted by neuromodulation. The team suggests that their research points to a human brain mechanism involving concrete and abstract decision processes.

The research using transcranial magnetic stimulation is a collaboration between scientists from the University of York in the U.K. and the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). The results of the research claiming transcranial magnetic stimulation can reduce a person’s belief in God and negativity toward immigrants is published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

The investigators were able to reduce the study participants belief in God, angels and heaven as well as prejudice against immigrants by targeting the region of the brain associated with problem-solving. They suspected that individuals may turn to ideology when faced with certain dilemmas. The team specifically focuses on the ideologies of religious and nationalistic beliefs, according to Medical News Today.

Dr. Keise Izuma, from the Department of Psychology at the University of York, and the rest of the team enrolled 39 students and split them into two groups. One group received a fake transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment that had no effect on the brain and the other group was given TMS that reduced activity in the posterior medial frontal cortex.

They were asked about their beliefs in God, angels, heaven, demons, and hell.

“We decided to remind people of death because previous research has shown that people turn to religion for comfort in the face of death,” Dr. Izuma said.

Then, they were asked to read essays compiled by immigrants. One of the essays was critical of the United States and the other was complimentary of the nation.

“We think that hearing criticisms of your group’s values, perhaps especially from a person you perceive as an outsider, is processed as an ideological sort of threat,” Dr. Izuma explained. “One way to respond to such threats is to ‘double down’ on your group values, increasing your investment in them, and reacting more negatively to the critic.”

Participants who received the placebo transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment reported a reduction in belief in God, angels and heaven at a rate that was 32.8 percent of the test group’s reduction.

“As expected, we found that when we experimentally turned down the posterior medial frontal cortex, people were less inclined to reach for comforting religious ideas despite having been reminded of death,” Dr. Izuma explained. There was also a 28.5 percent increase in a positive attitude toward immigrants in response to the critical letter. Dr Colin Holbrook, from UCLA and the lead author of the paper calls the results striking and consistent with the theory that the “brain mechanisms that evolved for relatively basic threat-response functions are repurposed to also produce ideological reactions,” according to a press release.

Do you think transcranial magnetic stimulation could sway your religious beliefs or nationalism if they were strong enough?

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