Looking at pictures

There are no atheists in CAT scanners – or are there.

Katja Wiech is a cheerful young German researcher who is fascinated by pain. She’s discovered many things—for example, when devout Catholics are given electric shocks while looking at a picture of the Virgin Mary they feel less pain than atheists do when administered the same unpleasant treatment.

Mary; that’s interesting. Not Jesus, not God. (Showing people pictures of God is a little tricky of course. There are a few – that Michelangelo one of course, where God and Adam attempt to do a fist bump, and some medieval ones where God wears a mitre and looks eminently unSpiritual – but not so many that there’s a stock visual ‘God’ the way there kind of is a stock visual ‘Jesus’ [long hair, beard, blueish robe, pale unMediterranean skin, simpy look on face], so it would probably be hard to show subjects an unmistakable ‘picture of God’ whereas it’s easy with Mary. That’s iconography for you.) Mary is the intercessor, she’s supposed to be the forgiving one, the compassionate one – so is she more effective with pain? So is the effect more to do with the religious aspect or with the compassionate aspect? I wonder if the same effect can be induced with atheists via secular pictures if they are of the right kind. Pictures of Obama for instance? Mandela?

It would be interesting to know.

6 Responses to “Looking at pictures”