Jul, 2021 - By WMR
Researchers matched lesion locations related with spiritual and religious belief to a specific human brain circuit using information from neurosurgical patients and people with brain injuries.
More over 80% of the world's population considers themselves to be religious or spiritual. However, there has been little research into the neurobiology of spirituality and religion. Functional neuroimaging has been utilised in previous research, which involves having a brain scan while executing a task to see which parts of the brain light up. However, these studies have painted a skewed and often contradictory picture of spirituality.
A new study lead by Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers uses a novel technique to mapping spirituality and religion, discovering that spiritual acceptance may be traced back to a specific brain circuit. The periaqueductal grey (PAG) is a brainstem region that has been linked to a variety of functions, including fear training, pain regulation, altruistic behaviours, and unconditional love. As a result, the findings show that spirituality and religiosity are profoundly woven into human neuro-fabric and are founded in fundamental neurological dynamics. The researchers were astounded to discover that this spiritual brain circuit is located in one of the brain's most evolutionarily maintained components.
The researchers next utilised a technique known as lesion network mapping, which allows researchers to map complex human behaviours to specific brain circuits based on the locations of lesions in patients' brains. Therefore 88 neurosurgical patients who were undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumour were included in the study, which was based on a previously published dataset. The sites of the lesions were found all over the brain. Before and after surgery, patients filled out a form that asked about spiritual acceptance.
Both positive and negative nodes were included in the circuit, and lesions disrupting these nodes either diminished or boosted self-reported spiritual beliefs. The second dataset's results on religiosity corroborated these conclusions. In addition, the researchers discovered multiple case reports of patients who became hyper-religious following brain lesions affecting the circuit's negative nodes in a review of the literature.
The study points out that the datasets they utilized lack detailed information about the patients' upbringing, which might influence spiritual beliefs, and that the patients in both datasets came from largely Christian societies.