Sunday, October 04, 2009

god inside the brain

Arstechnica | Why do some embrace religion and others reject it outright? For a long time, scientists have been trying to answer this question by probing the neural roots of religion. Until fairly recently, many thought the answer lay in a "God-spot"—a small region of the brain that has been linked to the mystical experiences associated with faith.

Thanks in large part to the growing sophistication of brain-scanning techniques, which let neuroscientists peer into the brain’s inner workings, that concept has largely been rendered moot; there is now widespread agreement that religious behaviors are modulated by well-defined neural pathways. Indeed, several studies have indicated that the feelings of joy, doubt, and self-reflection that are evoked by intense religious experiences can be correlated with specific patterns of brain activation. Earlier this year, a group of researchers led by the National Institute on Aging’s Dimitrios Kapogiannis identified several of the cognitive mechanisms and brain circuits that seem to be engaged during the processing of religious belief.

Their findings showed that, far from being an inscrutable phenomenon, religion could in fact be experimentally addressed and that its emergence may have been driven by changes in the neural capacity for language, logical reasoning, and other evolutionarily significant processes. In a follow-up study, the same group investigated whether the expression of religious beliefs could be tied to variability in the brain's architecture. Their results, which reveal that differences in regional cortical volumes correlate with key aspects of religiosity, were reported in PLoS ONE. Fist tap Dale.