Religious Beliefs Linked to Brain Networks

Functional MRI findings suggest that religious belief is tied to brain networks used in social cognition

THURSDAY, Mar. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Well-known brain networks appear to play a role in certain aspects of religious belief, according to research published online Mar. 9 before print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dimitrios Kapogiannis, M.D., of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues used functional MRI to assess the brain activity of individuals who indicated their agreement or disagreement with statements regarding religious beliefs. They found, among other associations, that statements about God's love activated the right middle frontal gyrus, which is involved in positive emotions and inhibition of sadness.

The investigators also found that religious individuals used bilateral anterior insulae and middle cingulate gyri when disagreeing with religious statements. Insular recruitment when rebuffing religious beliefs indicates higher emotional involvement; religious disagreement may have spurred negative emotions in such individuals, the authors write.

"This study defines a psychological and neuroanatomical framework for the (predominately explicit) processing of religious belief. Within this framework, religious belief engages well-known brain networks performing abstract semantic processing, imagery, and intent-related and emotional theory of mind, processes known to occur at both implicit and explicit levels. Moreover, the process of adopting religious beliefs depends on cognitive-emotional interactions within the anterior insulae, particularly among religious subjects," the authors conclude.

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