Brain Damage: A new study establishes a link between brain damage and religious fundamentalism, and demonstrates how brain damage increases religious fundamentalism.
A new study in the journal Neuropsychologia found that lesions in a particular brain region tend to increase religious fundamentalism.
Raw Story reports:
A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.
The study, “Biological and cognitive underpinnings of religious fundamentalism,” explains some terms and background information:
Religious beliefs are socially transmitted mental representations that may include supernatural or supernormal episodes that are assumed to be real. Religious beliefs, like other beliefs, are embedded in different ways in different people and societies…
One form of religious belief, religious fundamentalism, embodies adherence to a set of firm religious beliefs advocating unassailable truths about human existence…
In general, religious beliefs tend to differ from empirical beliefs. Although people may think subjectively of religious belief as a true or false representation of how the world is, it is notable that certain religious beliefs do not generally update in response to evidence, and that conservatism is especially notable in the case of fundamentalist beliefs.
The study “examined male Vietnam combat veterans with lesions to part of the brain known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. They found veterans with these lesions reported higher levels of religious fundamentalism compared to those without the lesions.”The study concludes:
In summary, we found that adherence to fundamentalist religious doctrine is partly mediated by diminished flexible conceptual thinking and reduced openness and that the key cortical region supporting the representation of diverse religious belief as well as flexible conceptual thinking is the dlPFC.
Commenting on the study, Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University, the study’s corresponding author, told PsyPost:
Human beliefs, and in this case religious beliefs, are one of the cognitive and social knowledge stores that distinguish us from other species and are an indication of how evolution and cognitive/social processes influenced the development of the human brain.
Grafman, noting the limitations of the study, added:
For this study, we recruited Vietnam Veterans with and without brain injuries. They were all male American combat veterans. This limits the generalization to other groups of people including women, people from other countries, and people who come from cultures with different primary religious beliefs.
We need to understand how distinct religious beliefs are from moral, legal, political, and economic beliefs in their representations in the brain, the nature of conversion from one belief system to another, the difference between belief and agency, and the nature of the depth of knowledge that individuals use to access and report their beliefs.
Bottom line: A new scientific study shows that damage to the prefrontal cortex is associated with religious fundamentalism.