Emerging research suggests that generalized religious belief involves cognitive activity that can be mapped to specific brain regions.
Now, a new study has found that causal, directional connections between these brain networks can be linked to differences in religious thought.
The concept that our belief in religion is associated with the manner in which our brain is wired is an extension of neuroscience research identifying the flow of information within the brain.
The article “Brain Networks Shaping Religious Belief” is published in the journal Brain Connectivity.
Researchers from the National Institute on Aging and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, 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 religious beliefs.
Dimitrios Kapogiannis, M.D., and colleagues determined causal pathways 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,” said 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,” said study co-author Jordan Grafman, Ph.D.
“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.”
This article first appeared on Psych Central on 28 January, 2014.