Speaking in Tongues

I came across this ABC report while looking for items on speaking in tongues – the peculiar practice of talking gibberish that is popular among Pentecostal Christians. Speaking in tongues or “glossolalia” appears to be another example where individuals seek an altered state – which they interpret was evidence of the holy spirit.

The study is now a bit dated and I wonder if there has been any follow-up, but Andrew Neuberg (the “God – spotter neuroscientist) reported back in 2006 that speaking in tongues is associated with increased emotional arousal and reduced frontal activity compared to praying in English. The news reports seem to make alot out of this difference (that’s the media for you) but I am not really too surprised. Speaking in English in a meaningful way (even praying!)y requires effortful thinking whereas talking gibberish clearly doesn’t and if you like talking gibberish, then no wonder your arousal centres are activated. Still, I thought it was interesting…. or should I say, “Plehu, bhat, plehu, gibita kalis”


Filed under Research

2 responses to “Speaking in Tongues

  1. Arno

    I can see why it is considered a religious or liberating experience though. As you said before: speaking requires effortful thinking so it must be nice to occasionally remove the constraints.
    It does make me wonder about the relationship between human speech, cognition and the human body. The woman who was tested danced beforehand, and correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t arousing music a regular feature in Pentecostal churches? If so, it wouldn’t surprise me if the music, or the use of monotonous, repeating, gestures and movements helps with the inhibition of the frontal lobes, thus aiding in the speaking with tongues. These are, for example, features used in African religions, where speaking in tongues is usually a sign of possession by a loa.
    And there is of course a social incentive to speak in tongues as well, as those who do, are “true believers”.

  2. Bruce,
    I saw a documentary once that included a bit about speaking in tongues. I watched that particular segment a few times just to see if I was hearing what I thought I was hearing, and I was. One pastor began his sentences in English, and then in the middle switched to tongues that sounded remarkable like goo goo bish bosh, and then he resumed English.

    It was hilarious, although I don’t supposed that it was meant to be.

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