The following story reads like something from The Onion, but sadly, it’s not.
A bizarre experiment, using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), claims to be able to make Christians no longer believe in God and make individuals open their arms to migrants in experiments some may find a threat to their values.
Scientists looked at how the brain resolves abstract ideological problems and claim they can safely shut down certain groups of neurons in the brains of volunteers.
TMS, which involves placing a large electromagnetic coil against the scalp which creates electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control, has been most commonly used for the treatment of depression.
Researchers found the technique radically altered religious perceptions and and anti-immigration feelings.
Belief in God was reduced almost by a third, while participants became 28.5% less bothered by immigration numbers.
Dr Keise Izuma, from the University of York, said: “People often turn to ideology when they are confronted by problems.
“We wanted to find out whether a brain region that is linked with solving concrete problems, like deciding how to move one’s body to overcome an obstacle, is also involved in solving abstract problems addressed by ideology.”
Volunteers were asked to rate their belief in God, heaven, the devil, and hell after undergoing pre-screening to ensure that they held religious convictions.
Dr Izuma said: “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.”
The American participants were also shown two essays written by newly arrived immigrants – one highly complimentary of the US and the other extremely critical.
Dr Izuma said: “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.”
Lead author Dr Colin Holbrook, form the the University of California at Los Angeles, said: “These findings are very striking, and consistent with the idea that brain mechanisms that evolved for relatively basic threat-response functions are re-purposed to also produce ideological reactions.”