"Religion is the opiate of the people" -- Karl Marx had famously said. But can one's faith in God really ease pain? Ye', say scientists.
A team at Oxford University has based its findings on an experiment in which 12 Roman Catholics and 12 atheists were
"tortured" with electric shocks as they studied two paintings--Virgin Mary and Leonardo da Vinci's Lady With An Ermine.
The subjects spent half-an-hour inside an MRI scanner, receiving a series of 20 electric shocks in four sessions and
each time they had to rate how much it hurt on a scale of 0 to 100 as they looked at the paintings.
The scientists found that the Catholics seemed to be able to block out much of the pain. And, using the latest brain-scanning techniques, they also discovered that the Catholics were able to activate part of the brain associated with conditioning experience of pain, the Daily Mail reported.
However, there was no such brain activity among the atheists whose pain and anxiety levels stayed roughly the same
throughout the experiment.
In fact, in the experiment, the Roman Catholics told the scientists that looking at the painting of the Virgin Mary actually made them feel "safe, taken care of and calmed down and peaceful".
More significantly, they reported feeling 12 per cent less pain after viewing the religious image than after looking
at Leonardo's masterpiece--the findings are published in the Pain journal.
According to the scientists, at least some religious believers can moderate their pain by thinking about it more
Team member Miguel Farias said a similar effect may be produced by non-believers if a sufficiently powerful image was
used. "We would need to find a picture of someone they feel very positive towards, such as a mother or father."