Do brain connections help shape religious beliefs?

©2014 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers

Building on previous evidence showing that religious belief involves cognitive activity that can be mapped to specific brain regions, a new study has found that causal, directional connections between these brain networks can be linked to differences in religious thought. The article "Brain Networks Shaping Religious Belief" is published in Brain Connectivity.

Dimitrios Kapogiannis and colleagues from the National Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD) and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, IL, analyzed data collected from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to evaluate the flow of brain activity when religious and non-religious individuals discussed their . The authors determined causal pathways linking 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," says Dr. 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 networks uniquely devoted to religious belief? Prior research has indicated the answer is a resolute no," continues study co-author Jordan Grafman, Director, Brain Injury Research and Chief, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. "But this study demonstrates that important 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 indicates how basic networks evolved to mediate much more complex beliefs like those contained in religious practice."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Giving emotions to virtual characters

16 minutes ago

Researchers at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (UAEM) were able to simulate human facial expressions in virtual characters and use them in order to create better environments within a virtual ...

Emotion-tracking software aims for "mood-aware" internet

1 hour ago

Emotions can be powerful for individuals. But they're also powerful tools for content creators, such as advertisers, marketers, and filmmakers. By tracking people's negative or positive feelings toward ads—via ...

The emotional appeal of stand-up comedy

1 hour ago

Comics taking to the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe this week should take note: how much of a hit they are with their audiences won't be down to just their jokes. As Dr Tim Miles from the University of Surrey has discovered, ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jan 28, 2014
Religion is not one thing but embraces a range of behaviours and attitudes that have no single common thread due to the varied usage of the word. For instance not all religions include a God.

Not all people who belong to a religion do so through faith in the ethereal. Many people, especially in the past, thought of religious ideas as facts in the same way scientists think of energy and leverage as facts.

Indeed, in the 19th century there was a trend in science to try to understand biblical stories from a scientific perspective. Where did all the water come from for the great flood?? A number of theories circulated. And at the turn of the 20th century the most famous physicist in the world, Lord Kelvin, published a list of 20 reasons why the Earth couldn't be more than a few tens of thousands of years old.

Religion does not require faith any more than a belief in gravity does. If people mistakenly think they have seen the sky falling then they don't need faith in such a theory.