Relieve Pain with Spiritual Images

by Hayzell

Post image for Relieve Pain with Spiritual Images

It seems my Catholic mother may have been onto something when she said religion helps with pain. According to an Oxford study, invoking one’s religious beliefs for pain relief has some scientific backing.

Researchers at the Oxford Center for Science of the Mind gave atheists and Roman Catholics electric shocks while they looked at two paintings, one of Sassoferrato’s Virgin Mary and a secular portrait by da Vinci.

The aim of the study was to see if looking at the religious picture would relieve pain during electric shocks when compared to the non-religious picture.

Religious participants reported that the Virgin Mary made them feel “safe and calm.” They also reported 12% less pain and MRI scans indicated that their brain areas associated with pain control were activated. These results indicate that the beliefs of the religious participants helped them to reinterpret their painful experience. Instead of pain, they “felt taken care of.”

In contrast, pain and anxiety levels for atheists stayed the same throughout the experiment. However, not all hope is lost for non-believers. The researchers state that further studies may show that non-religious persons can have a similar experience with a powerful image that evokes a state of safety and calm.

Another study by Dezutter and colleagues found that religious images could also influence how people experience their pain. People who interpreted a religious picture as a “Happy God” as opposed to an “Angry God,” reported higher life satisfaction and better ability to see pain in their lives in a positive light (i.e., focusing on growth and possibilities of the situation). According to the researchers, the percieved support from the religious figure had positive effects on the mood of participants.

So if you’re religous, find an image that makes you feel safe and calm because it can help you fight your pain. If you’re an atheist, it won’t hurt to try and look at a picture that makes you feel safe and calm as well.


  • Dezutter, J., Luyckx, K., Schaap-Jonker, H., B├╝ssing, A., Corveleyn, J., & Hutsebaut, D. (2010). God Image and Happiness in Chronic Pain Patients: The Mediating Role of Disease Interpretation Pain Medicine DOI: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2010.00827.x
  • Wiech, K., Farias, M., Kahane, G., Shackel, N., Tiede, W., & Tracey, I. (2008). An fMRI study measuring analgesia enhanced by religion as a belief system Pain, 139 (2), 467-476 DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2008.07.030

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