The Religious Ecstasy of Pain

imagesThe idea of looking at images of the Virgin Mary while administering electric shocks to the devout just seems too much like some form of modern flagellation or at least Orwellian conditioning experiment. I did not think that sort of experiment got ethical approval these days. I have enough trouble with my own board just on the wording of some stupid consent form that most people don’t understand anyway.  

Yet Oxbridge researchers have reported a study showing that practicing Catholics can tolerate more pain induced by electric shock when they look at portraits of Jesus’s mum compared to a control picture. Non-religious individuals did not show any modulated pain tolerance when looking at the two images. 

religious-imagesJust in case you didn’t know, the one of the left is the Virgin Mary.

Brain imaging also revealed increased activation of the prefrontal regions of the brain which controls and suppresses emotional responses, leading to the very outrageous claim in the report that pain should not be viewed so negatively but has positive association for Catholics. Well there’s a surprise. Talk about a loaded research agenda.

Pass me the spikey belt. I feel the need to give myself a damn good thrashing.


Filed under Research

12 responses to “The Religious Ecstasy of Pain

  1. That definitely counts as quite a bizarre study!

  2. Arno

    Seems to me like it has nothing to do with religion, but with providing people with a proper role model to make coping with suffering easier.
    You’d probably get similar ‘acceptance of pain’ results when you give people a picture of Nelson Mandela or Ghandi: both men that suffered, yet endured for the greater good.

    • Lizzy

      That’s still a positive thing. Its like the love for that person puts you into a more all loving frame of mind, which negates the negative and self pre-occupied pain of electrocution. If your conciousness can tap into true and loving emotions then there is a shield against pain and physical restrictions; such as when a mother lifts a car to save her child. Love is the concept we need to be concentrating on, its the reason that drives the will.

  3. dorian9

    nice da vincis, bruce!
    being a da vinci fan and the catholic upbringing naturally drew me to this but arno is right, it’s the associative factor. i would add that a person with strong religious faith would experience the “pain acceptance” more.

  4. brucehood

    Welcome Dorian9. So pleased you have joined us.

  5. …and the one on the right is Gwyneth Paltrow, right?

  6. I presume that people get paid money to conduct such research?.. and doubtless get to have a bit of a giggle at the same time (More current, Igor!).

    We’re almost into the realms of Bill Murray’s shifty character in ‘Ghostbusters’.

  7. poietes

    So to put this in lay terms, since I’m not religious: If I’m looking at two pictures, a hot fudge sundae, and a bowl of cooked spinach, I will react well to the pain when showed the sundae since I believe devoutly in the power of chocolate?

    How odd.


    It’s not Gwyneth, it’s Madonna playing the madonna in another Guy Ritchie thriller, before the breakup, of course.

  8. Wait. I’m confused. More proof that Pain has positive associations for Catholics than that luxurious Opus Dei frat house in Midtown Manhattan? There has got to be big bucks in fetishes inspired by Catholicism. Maybe my mind makes odd connections but this study reminds me of the time I went searching on the internet for equestrian gear for my horseback riding lessons and found a butt plug with a horse’s tail attached. Astounding.

  9. ps: I didn’t buy it 😉

  10. brucehood

    That’s a shame, it could have doubled as a flail to torment your sinful skin!

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