The awestruck effect
I study social psychology, especially the effect that charismatic religious leaders can have on their followers. In one of my group’s studies, we brought in Christians who believe in the healing powers of the divinity. Using an fMRI machine, which highlights active areas of the brain, we saw that when they listened to prayers from healers, areas associated with reasoning and skepticism were immediately suppressed. Nonbelievers didn’t have the same apparent loss of rational thought.
We all experience versions of that. Many bosses exert this kind of charisma, and it likely causes the same brain behavior.
My colleagues and I think this could be a survival mechanism. Spending all your time on critical thinking keeps you from getting everything else done, so you build trust in other people. You’re allowing others to think for you. But the power of charisma doesn’t come from any particular skill in the person influencing you. It’s all about the faith you put in them.
Understanding how this all plays out neurologically has completely changed the way I interact with the world, but that’s not necessarily a positive thing in every scenario. It’s ruined my relationship with doctors. Sometimes I wish I could just blindly trust that my physician is prescribing me the right medication.
But I’ve come to appreciate that trust needs to be earned—whether it’s in a doctor, a news source, or a person of authority.