Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Transcranial Brainwashing

By Tim Hannan

Is it possible to significantly change a person’s beliefs by stimulating the brain?

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Religious convictions and parochial beliefs about racial or national groups are strong motivators of human behaviour, with both beneficial and harmful social consequences. These beliefs play a significant role in human decision-making: when facing a challenge or threat, people are most likely to demonstrate their adherence to religious and political ideologies.

Yet a study reported in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience has reported that the strength of such beliefs may be open to modification through transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), with treated participants reporting a diminished degree of agreement with religious statements and less negative attitudes towards immigrants.

Previous studies have established that, when confronted by situations characterised by conflicting values or complex dilemmas, decision-making is strongly influenced by pre-existing and often parochial ideologies. The strength of these beliefs varies across contexts, along with their impact on decisions. Previous research has found that cues for threat tend to elicit stronger expressions of adherence to beliefs, and neuroimaging has demonstrated that the brain region that’s central to invoking relevant beliefs in decision-making is the posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC).

The study by US and UK researchers recruited 38 undergraduate students, with each reporting...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.