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Religious Belief Linked to Specific Brain Networks

Update Date: Jan 28, 2014 12:42 PM EST

Brain connections may determine a person's religious beliefs, according to a new study.

Previous studies have linked religious belief to certain brain regions, and new research reveals causal, directional connections between these brain regions can predict differences in religious thought. 

After analyzing data from previous fMRI studies, researchers were able to determine causal pathways linking brain networks related to "supernatural agents," fear regulation, imagery, and emotion. Researchers explain that these factors may be involved in cognitive processing of religious beliefs.

"When the brain contemplates a religious belief 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?" Dimitrios Kapogiannis of the National Institute on Aging and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago said in a news release.

"Are there brain networks uniquely devoted to religious belief? Prior research has indicated the answer is a resolute no," co-author Jordan Grafman, Director, Brain Injury Research and Chief, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago said in a statement.

"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," Grafman explained.

The findings are published in the journal Brain Connectivity

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