Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Schjødt and his colleagues scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostalists and 20 non-believers while playing them recorded prayers. The volunteers were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian and six by a healer. In fact, all were read by ordinary Christians.
Only in the devout volunteers did the brain activity monitored by the researchers change in response to the prayers. Parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, which play key roles in vigilance and scepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say, were deactivated when the subjects listened to a supposed healer. Activity diminished to a lesser extent when the speaker was supposedly a normal Christian (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq023).
Schjødt says that this explains why certain individuals can gain influence over others, and concludes that their ability to do so depends heavily on preconceived notions of their authority and trustworthiness.Read it in New Scientist.
Charisma -- personal charm and magnetism -- is a quality we look for in our leaders, including (especially?) the clergy. It's not proven by this experiment, but it's an interesting hypothesis that when we find someone charismatic the areas of the brain associated with vigilance and skepticism are deactivated. Charisma can be a force for good, but it can so easily be misused.
I come down on the side of preferring uncharismatic leaders. What about you?