Mind hack: Scientists use magnets to change attitudes on immigration, religion
Psychologists used magnetic force to safely shut down the region of the brain associated with “threat-response functions” and conducted a series of tests where volunteers were asked questions about their beliefs.
Scientists found the people were less likely to have negative views when the magnetic force was applied to the posterior medial frontal cortex, positioned a few inches up from the forehead.
In the study, half of participants were given a low-level placebo-like level of magnetic energy that did not affect their brain, while the other half received enough energy to lower activity in the target area.
Volunteers were then asked to think about death, after which they were asked questions about their religious beliefs and attitudes on immigration.
Researchers from the University of York and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), discovered those whose frontal cortex was temporarily shut down reported 32.8 percent less belief in God, angels or heaven.
Volunteers were screened prior to the investigation to ensure they held religious beliefs.
The participants were also 28.5 percent more positive in their feelings toward an immigrant who criticized their country.
Dr. Keise Izuma said volunteers were reminded about death because people are more likely to turn to ideologies when they think of dying.
“We decided to remind people of death because previous research has shown that people turn to religion for comfort in the face of death. 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,” he said.
Volunteers were asked to respond to negative and positive emotional aspects of religion, in particular to rate their belief in the Devil, demons and Hell, in addition to God, angels and heaven.
Participants were also given two essays to read, both supposedly written by immigrants. One essay was extremely complimentary to the host country, while the other was extremely critical.
Scientists found that when the magnetic force temporarily shut down the ‘threat-response’ part of the brain, people were more likely to have positive feelings towards the immigrant who was critical.
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,” said Izuma.
“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.”
“When we disrupted the brain region that usually helps detect and respond to threats, we saw a less negative, less ideologically motivated reaction to the critical author and his opinions,” he said.
UCLA’s Dr. Colin Holbrook, who was lead author of the report, said the findings were “striking.”
“These findings are very striking, and consistent with the idea that brain mechanisms that evolved for relatively basic threat-response functions are repurposed to also produce ideological reactions,” he said.