Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

Religious Icons Fight Pain

 by Bennett Gordon

Tags: Spirituality, religion, Catholicism, Virgin Mary, pain, ,

Image of the Virgin MaryWhen a Catholic gets hurt, an image of the Virgin Mary could help soothe the pain. New research suggests that “religious belief alters the brain in a way that changes how a person responds to pain,” Irene Tracey of Oxford University told Science News.

For the research, Catholics, agnostics, and atheists were subjected to a series of electric shocks, some while looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary and some without the image. Practicing Catholics perceived less pain when they were staring at the Virgin Mary, Science News reports, and displayed increased activity in an area of the brain associated with “emotional detachment and perceived control over pain.” Agnostics and atheists didn't show the same kind of neuro-activity, nor the perceived pain reduction.