A team of Danish researchers have found that when listening to a well-spoken person who claims to have divine healing powers, the regions of the brain responsible for skepticism and vigilance become less active.
Using an MRI machine, Uffe Schjødt of Aarhus University in Denmark scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostal Christians and 20 non-believers while playing them pre-recorded prayers. The subjects were told that six of the prayers were read by healers, six by ordinary Christians, and six by non-believers (they were all read by ordinary Christians). According to the New Scientist:
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.
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.... It's not clear whether the results extend beyond religious leaders, but Schjødt speculates that brain regions may be deactivated in a similar way in response to doctors, parents and politicians.