Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Chilling down our religiousity and intolerance with some magnets?

A group of collaborators has used transcranial magnetic stimulation to dial down activity in the area of the posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC)that evaluates threats and plans responses. A group of subjects who had undergone this procedure expressed less bias against immigrants and also less belief in God than a group that received a sham TMS treatment.
People cleave to ideological convictions with greater intensity in the aftermath of threat. The posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) plays a key role in both detecting discrepancies between desired and current conditions and adjusting subsequent behavior to resolve such conflicts. Building on prior literature examining the role of the pMFC in shifts in relatively low-level decision processes, we demonstrate that the pMFC mediates adjustments in adherence to political and religious ideologies. We presented participants with a reminder of death and a critique of their in-group ostensibly written by a member of an out-group, then experimentally decreased both avowed belief in God and out-group derogation by downregulating pMFC activity via transcranial magnetic stimulation. The results provide the first evidence that group prejudice and religious belief are susceptible to targeted neuromodulation, and point to a shared cognitive mechanism underlying concrete and abstract decision processes. We discuss the implications of these findings for further research characterizing the cognitive and affective mechanisms at play.

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