Monday, November 04, 2013

the homeless are not human

Jesus prays about his Medial Prefrontal Cortex, cartoon by rob g

If you haven't heard about the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC for short), here's a quick explanation followed by the disturbing results of an experiment:

According to Psychology Today, the mPFC "activates when people do things that involve perceiving and relating to other people, such as recognizing and distinguishing between faces and empathizing." This means that it activates for your mother and your partner, but it does not activate when you see the sandwich your mother made for you or the sweater your partner gave you (no matter how tasty the sandwich or lovely the sweater).

homeless not humanIn their experiment, researchers Lasana Harris and Susan Fiske showed pictures of specific groups of people and measured the response of the mPFC. Here's what they found:
Images of all other groups besides the homeless activated the mPFC. This suggests that the homeless are not recognized as human relative to other groups. They actually are perceived, at least in this area of the brain, more like objects, such as tables.

The cartoon above is suggesting that Jesus' mPFC was malfunctioning, as he saw the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, as people. Of course, it wasn't malfunctioning -- he was correctly functioning in seeing everyone whom God has made. So the questions I have are:
  • If the study was done among the religious in Jesus' day, would it have had similar results?
  • If this study had includes homeless persons among the subjects, would their mPFC activate when shown images of homeless people? (I'd assume "yes," but there could be other variables involved).
  • Some non-homeless people do see homeless people as people. Why is this different for them?
  • Can we use our mPFC as an excuse for ignoring some people?
Some words from Jesus:
 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" Matthew 25:37-40 NIV

Read more about mPFC studies.

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