The brain can distinguish religion from fact

Lead author, Sam Harris, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Staglin Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and co-lead author, Jonas Kaplan, research assistant professor at the USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, performed the first neuroimaging study to systematically compare religious faith with ordinary cognition. The study has demonstrated that our brains respond differently to religious and nonreligious statements, however the information seems to get processed in the same brain regions. In other words, our judgement on the truthfulness of religious statements occurs within the same brain regions, despite whether we believe or not. The study included 30 adult subjects, in which half were devout Christians and the remaining half were non-believers. All subjects judged the reliability of religious and non-religious statements while undergoing three functional MRI (fMRI) scans. The statements used were certain to generate agreement in both groups. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), a brain region said to be involved with reward and judgements of self-relevance, showed increased activity when evaluating statements related to beliefs in God, the Virgin Birth and ordinary facts. However, religious thought appears to be more associated with areas of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that govern emotion, self-representation and cognitive conflict in both believers and nonbelievers.



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