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University to study link between pain, beliefscomment (0)

March 3, 2005


Can religious faith affect the perception of pain? That is one of the questions to be investigated by a new research project at Oxford University.

The project is funded by an initial two-year grant of $2 million from the Templeton Foundation, the same organization that funds the annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, which began in 1972.

The Oxford Centre for Science of the Mind said the study will bring together six university departments: anatomy, pharmacology, philosophy, physiology, theology and the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, which concentrates on medical ethics.

The university hopes the project will help researchers develop a better understanding of how the brain works, when people are thinking and when they are not.

“Very little is known about pain and how the brain copes with it,” said the project’s deputy director, Dr. Toby Collins.

Collins said there will be carefully controlled and monitored experiments to find out how subjects react to painful stimuli, either by applying a chili-based gel to the skin or by applying a heat pad that will also produce a burning sensation.

Among other things, researchers will show volunteers religious symbols while subjecting them to the painful stimuli to see how they respond.

Collins told the Associated Press (AP) that subjects will be asked to access a belief system, whether secular or religious, with results compared.

“Everyone, when they suffer pain, has a strategy for coping, and often they will turn to religious beliefs,” Collins told the AP.


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