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+ Neuroscience of Prayer: Current Research James A. Van Slyke.

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Presentation on theme: "+ Neuroscience of Prayer: Current Research James A. Van Slyke."— Presentation transcript:

1 + Neuroscience of Prayer: Current Research James A. Van Slyke

2 + Prayer and the Reward Systems of the Brain (Schjodt et. al. 2008) Research from the University of Aarhous, Denmark Participants Protestant Danish Christians 20 participants (mean age 25.4) 6 males 14 females Experimental Conditions Two Different forms of prayer analyzed Formal prayer (Ritualistic, scripted) = Lord’s Prayer Informal prayer (Low structure, improvised)

3 + Prayer and the Reward Systems of the Brain (Schjodt et. al. 2008) Control Conditions Well known rhyme (Control formal) Asking for gifts from Santa Claus (Control informal) Baseline (Counting back from 100) Procedure Each participant went through both the experimental and control conditions Tasks were prompted by headphones and lasted 30 seconds (repeated 6 times) Tasks were performed silently using internal speech

4 + Prayer and the Reward Systems of the Brain (Schjodt et. al. 2008) During the Tasks brain activity was assess using fMRI MRI – Magentic resonance imaging Provides structural layout of the brain Similar to an X-ray fMRI – (functional magnetic resonance imaging) Estimates areas of the brain active during a task BOLD response Measures the amount of blood oxygenation levels in the brain Higher oxygenation = higher levels of brain activity

5 + Reward Systems of the Brain: Striatum, Caudate Nucleus and Putamen

6 + Reward Systems both anticipate and estimate future rewards May be involved in both early and later stages of addiction May play a role in habitual behavior in terms of reward Caudate Nucleus Instrumental conditioning Reward systems increase the likelihood of repeating certain behaviors learned through experience Damage to this area may induce symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) OCD has been linked with increased activity in the caudate Reward Systems of the Brain: Striatum, Caudate Nucleus and Putamen

7 + Prayer and the Reward Systems of the Brain (Schjodt 2008) Hypothesis: Prayers will activate the reward systems of the brain (Caudate nucleus) Results Both prayer conditions showed increased activity in the caudate and decreased activity during controls Formal prayer showed a slightly higher activation Participants self-reported as strong believers Self-reported as involved in a weekly practice of prayer (Lord’s prayer mean = 4.75; Personal prayer mean =19.75

8 + Social Cognition and Prayer (Schjoedt et. al. 2009) Follow up analysis Used same set of experimental and control conditions Expanded fMRI analysis to include areas of the brain used in social cognition Hypothesis: Personal (non-formal) prayer activates areas of the brain used in social cognition Praying to God is an intersubjective experience similar to general aspects of interpersonal interaction between persons

9 + Understanding Social Cognition Social and Affective Neuroscience Areas of the brain seem to be specialized for dealing with social relationships Emotional evaluation; Estimating levels of trust Areas of the brain from this study Precuneas Higher order cognitive functions Often involved in self-referential behavior (information important for the self Schjodt et. al. interpretation Prayer involves information important for the self (i.e. desires or problems

10 + Understanding Social Cognition MPFC (Medial Prefrontal Cortex)

11 + The Famous Case of Phineas Gage Before accident Intelligent capable worker excellent manager responsible family man upstanding citizen After Accident Maintained his general intelligence Unreliable and capricious Socially Inappropriate Lost his family and fortune

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13 + Case of Elliott Before good husband and father high level job at business firm had attained an enviable social status Post surgery, tumor removed in orbital frontal area irresponsible unable to manage his time flawed decision making Divorced; entered unwise marriage lost his job

14 + Case of Elliot Laboratory test results maintained superior IQ (WAIS) flawless memory superior language ability normal on lab tests of financial and ethical decision making normal lab ability to generate solutions to social problems Could predict social consequences

15 + Galvanic Skin Response (Measures Moisture in skin) Iowa Gambling Task

16 + Gambling game Test of decisions and consequences normal individuals develop anticipatory evaluative autonomic response (mini emotional response) Elliot was never able to develop a discriminatory anticipation while choosing from the bad decks

17 + Follow up study to Elliott NORMALS In normal participants (no MPFC lesions), anticipatory skin conductive responses (SCRs) occurred at around 20 deck choices when selecting from the “bad” decks, despite participants not forming a conscious “hunch” until around 50 selections. Generally by card 80, normal participants could articulate what was occurring with respect to “good” decks and “bad” decks 30 % did not have a conceptual understanding of the task but still made advantageous decisions. VMPFC LESION PARTICIPANTS The few participants who made it to the conceptualization phase still were making disadvantageous decisions No anticipatory SCRs were experienced by any of the participants with VMPFC damage

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19 + Other regions of interest Temporopolar region Associated with autobiographical memory Processing of social narratives Personal prayer requires memory of how God has answered prayers in the past (Schjoedt interpretation) Temporo-parietal junction Analyzing behavior Processing social causation and goal attribution Praying to God may be a type of negotiation; hoping to change God’s intentions toward a situation (Schjoedt interpretation)

20 + Findings For each one of the areas of the brain selected for analysis there was a higher level of activation in relation to personal prayer than the other conditions Theory of Mind Many of the areas investigated have also been linked with TOM TOM is the ability to understand the thoughts and intentions of others (Mind-Reading) Important part of social life Deficit in persons with Autism

21 + Power of Charisma (2010) Participants (n=37) Males = 15 Females = 22 Christians = 18 (mean age 23) Pentecostal Frequent prayers (intercessory for 12 years; 33 times per month) Secular = 18 (mean age 26.4) No belief in God No belief in the effect of prayer

22 + Power of Charisma (2010) Procedure Participants listened to 18 different prayers performed by males Prayers were listed in three categories Non-Christian (6) Christian (6) Christian known for being able to heal through prayer (6) In reality all prayers were recorded by a single group of Christians and than randomly assigned to each group Each prayer lasted 30 s

23 + Power of Charisma (2010) Results Christians rated speakers charisma and presence of God for all three conditions Highest for “healing powers” lowest for “non-Christians” God was reported as present in all conditions Non-Christians showed a similar but lower pattern for charisma, but no real difference for experiencing God’s presence

24 + Power of Charisma (2010) Results Secular participants – no real difference in brain activation for the three groups Christian groups Cascade effect from non-Christian (N-C) to healing powers (HP) group Higher levels of activation for N-C and lower levels for Christian and HP group Different areas of the brain – Prefrontal cortex; temporoparietal junction; inferior temporal cortex; temporopolar/ orbitofrontal; cerebellum

25 + Power of Charisma (2010) Discussion Watching pictures of loved ones can deactivate executive system (Bartels and Zeki 2000; 2004) Could be neural subsystem involved in trust? Takes more cognitive power to override prayer given by NC group Schjoedt interpretation Intercessory prayer similar to hypnosis “Handing over” of executive function to the leader Power of prayer based on the perceived charismatic authority of healer or leader (Max Weber 1922)

26 + Critiques (Spezio 2011) The problem of reverse inference Prayer activity linked with a brain area Other studies link the area with some function Thus, the same function is present in current study Without specific test in experiment for assumed function, it is difficult to make causal interpretations Most areas of the brain participate in numerous overlapping functions; difficult to limit areas of the brain to one function fMRI studies should be taken seriously, but still tentatively

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