Wiech, Farias, Kahane, Shackel, Tiede, & Tracey (2008) Introduction Stories of diminished physical pain or pain tolerance due to religious belief Research has shown that high-level cognitive processes such as placebo-induced analgesia, emotional detachment, and perceived control over pain can reduce pain intensity. Religious individuals → positive framing fMRI studies and the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) Research Questions 1. Can religious belief be shown to modulate pain in a controlled experimental setting? 2. Is such modulation of pain by religious belief mediated by the right VLPFC? Methods Subjects: 12 religious (Catholic) and 12 atheist/agnostic healthy individuals Age 19-34 Questionnaire → All religious participants attended mass at least once/week and prayed everyday QUESTION: Should atheists be used in the control group? Design: 2 x 2 factorial design GROUP (religious vs. non-religious) → between-subject CONDITION (religious vs. non-religious) → within-subject “Vergine Annunciate” by Sassoferrato “Lady with an Ermine” by da Vinci Methods Visual stimuli: (1) The religious image had to reliably evoke a religious mind set in believers and (2) the non-religious picture had to be sufficiently similar to the religious one in order to minimize the influence of confounding factors. Image of Jesus may introduce confounding factors Religious → evoked most powerful religious feelings Non-religious → rated most similar to religious image Procedure: Electrical stimulation to the back of the left hand fMRI session Coping and familiarity rating using visual analog Procedure: Results Pain ratings: Significant effects for CONDITION and GROUP x CONDITION GROUP was not significant → Religious not less sensitive to pain Atheist group rated pain same in both conditions Results Affectedness ratings: Significant effects for GROUP and GROUP x CONDITION Religious sample → more positive ratings for religious image Atheist sample → more positive ratings for non-religious image *Both groups indicated differences in preferred image but only religious group also indicated pain reduction when viewing preferred image Results Coping and familiarity ratings: Both factors and interaction significant for coping Religious → Virgin Mary more helpful in coping Atheist → Both pictures equally helpful Participants rated both pictures as equally familiar. Neuroimaging data: No significant differences between groups for pain-related brain activation Religious group/ religious image → significant activation in right VLPFC and pons/ventral midbrain *Support for 2 nd research question *Religious group/ Religious image Results Neuroimaging data: Activation in right VLPFC not due to preferential liking → no activation for atheist group with preferred image Pons/midbrain activation found in both groups → likely due to preferential liking Results Pons/midbrain area – most strongly associated with affectedness (positive) Right VLPFC – most strongly associated with pain intensity (negative) Discussion Religious individuals are able to lessen the perceived pain intensity when they are presented with a religious image. (1) Distraction effect (2) Motivational priming (3) Reappraisal – a process of reinterpreting the meaning of a stimulus leading to a change in one’s emotional response to it. → Supported by data → Distraction and motivational priming – preferential liking should have produced a reduction in pain Discussion Right VLPFC Active for religious group/religious condition, leading to a decrease in perceived pain intensity Active in previous studies of pain modulation Pons/ventral midbrain More strongly related to affectedness → active during preferred condition Unknowns Is the pain-reduction effect started by the VLPFC or is the VLPFC compelled by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex? QUESTION: Do you think similar pain-reduction effects can occur using stimuli that are not religious in nature but have similar cultural and nurturing influences? Andes Survivors Catholic → familiar with image of Virgin Mary Prayed the rosary every night → Hail Mary Likely helped the survivors cope with the pain associated with injuries from crash, hunger, and the cold.