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.”
For those of you interested in learning more about religion and the brain, check out this interesting post on the field of neurotheology.