New Scientist article of 08 April 2009 by Andy Coghlan
IS PRAYER just another kind of friendly conversation? Yes, says Uffe Schjødt, who used MRI to scan the brains of 20 devout Christians. "It's like talking to another human. We found no evidence of anything mystical."
Schjødt, of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and colleagues, asked volunteers to carry out two tasks involving both religious and "secular" activities. In the first task, they silently recited the Lord's Prayer, then a nursery rhyme. Identical brain areas, typically associated with rehearsal and repetition, were activated.
In the second, they improvised personal prayers before making requests to Santa Claus. Improvised prayers triggered patterns that match those seen when people communicate with each other, and activated circuitry that is linked with the theory of mind - an awareness that other individuals have their own independent motivations and intentions (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsn050).