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01-10-2008, 11:22 AM
Religious belief can help relieve pain, say researchers
Scientists have uncovered an ancient and elaborate source of pain relief that is based purely on the power of the mind, according to research published today.

Brain scans of volunteers who were subjected to electrical shocks revealed that Roman Catholics felt less pain than atheists and agnostics when they were shown a painting of the Virgin Mary.

Images of the volunteers' brains showed that in devout believers, an area of the brain that suppresses reactions to threatening situations lit up when they were shown the picture.
Researchers at Oxford University, led by Katja Wiech, recruited 12 nonbelievers and 12 practising Roman Catholic students. In the tests, participants were shown either an image of the Virgin Mary by the 17th-century Italian painter Sassoferrato or Leonardo da Vinci's 15th-century Lady with an Ermine. After looking at the picture for 30 seconds, the volunteers were zapped with electrical pulses for 12 seconds. Each time, they were asked to rank how painful the shocks were on a scale of zero to 100.

The researchers describe how Roman Catholics and nonbelievers reported similar levels of pain after viewing the Leonardo painting. But the two groups responded very differently to the Virgin Mary painting, with Catholics experiencing 12% less pain.