Does brain wiring impact religious belief?

News Editor: Maria Kostyanaya

iStock_000003288944XSmallRecent research shows that cognitive activity accompanied by generalized religious beliefs can be associated with specific brain regions. The idea that religious beliefs are associated with particular brain operations is an extension of neuroscience research attempting to identify information flow within the brain.

In a recent study researchers have found that causal, directional connections between brain networks can be linked to differences in religious thought. The original article, “Brain Networks Shaping Religious Belief”, has been published in the journal Brain Connectivity.

Researchers from the National Institute on Aging and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago performed a multivariate Granger causality-based directional connectivity analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to evaluate the flow of brain activity when religious and non-religious individuals discussed their religious beliefs.

Dimitrios Kapogiannis, M.D., and colleagues determined causal pathways that link brain networks related to “supernatural agents,” fear regulation, imagery and affect, all of which may be involved in cognitive processing of religious beliefs.

“When the brain contemplates a religious belief,” claims Kapogiannis, “it is activating three distinct networks that are trying to answer three distinct questions:

1) Is there a supernatural agent involved (such as God) and, if so, what are his or her intentions; 2) Is the supernatural agent to be feared; and 3) How does this belief relate to prior life experiences and to doctrines?”

“Are there brain networks uniquely devoted to religious belief? Prior research has indicated the answer is a resolute no,” says study co-author Jordan Grafman, Ph.D. He continues: “But this study demonstrates that important brain networks devoted to various kinds of reasoning about others, emotional processing, knowledge representation, and memory are called into action when thinking about religious beliefs.

The use of these basic networks for religious practice indicates how basic networks evolved to mediate much more complex beliefs like those contained in religious practice.”



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