22 December 2008

Catholics Better Than Atheists at Coping with Pain

So say a group of Oxford scientists:
[T]he researchers used 12 practicing Catholics and 12 non-religious voluntaries [read atheists and agnostics], submitting both groups to an electrical shock, during which they were shown either a religious or a non-religious image, and while registering their brain activity. After this the subjects were asked to record the intensity of the pain felt during the pulse, as well as their like/dislike for each of the images. The pictures chosen – a painting of the Virgin Mary called "Vergine annunciate" by Sassoferrato and "Lady with an Ermine" by Leonardo da Vinci as the non-religious control – were edited to become aesthetically very similar.

Interestingly, it was found that the religious group reported much less pain if watching the Virgin Mary during the electrical stimulus, despite the fact that both groups had, previously, been shown to have similar pain sensitivity. When commenting on the images, the Catholic subjects, as expected, expressed a higher liking for the Virgin Mary, while the non-religious group preferred the da Vinci’s print and even had negative feelings towards the Virgin.

These observations support the idea that the changes in pain perception were linked to the religious content of the Virgin image, and not the result of a preference towards an image, since the non-religious group had no pain scores’ changes while watching its preferred da Vinci’s image.