Science & Technology

Scientists identify specific human brain circuits for spirituality

Using datasets from patients with neurosurgery and patients with brain lesions, researchers mapped lesion locations related to mental and religious beliefs to specific human brain circuits.

Over 80% of people around the world consider themselves religious or spiritual. However, research on spirituality and religious neuroscience is sparse. Previous studies used functional neuroimaging in which an individual undergoes a brain scan while performing the task of determining which areas of the brain are brightened. However, these correlation studies were uneven in spirituality and often gave inconsistent pictures.

A new study led by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital has adopted a new approach to mapping spirituality and religion and found that mental acceptance can be localized to specific brain circuits. .. This brain circuit is centered around the Periaqueductal Gray (PAG), a brainstem region involved in many functions such as fear conditioning, pain regulation, altruistic behavior, and unconditional love. The team’s findings are Biological psychiatry..

“Our results suggest that spirituality and religion are rooted in basic neurobiological dynamics and are deeply woven into our neurofabric,” Brigham Brain Circuit Therapy. Corresponding author Dr. Michael Ferguson, a senior researcher at the center, said. “We were surprised that this spirituality brain circuit is concentrated in one of the most evolutionarily conserved structures in the brain.”

Spiritual Brain

Scientists have recently discovered a link between spirituality and evolutionarily ancient brain circuits. Credit: Michael Ferguson

Ferguson et al. Used a technique called lesion network mapping to carry out the study. This allows researchers to map complex human behavior to specific brain circuits based on the location of the patient’s brain lesions. The team leveraged a previously published dataset that included 88 neurosurgery patients who had surgery to remove brain tumors. The location of the lesion was distributed throughout the brain. The patient completed a study that included questions about psychological acceptance before and after surgery. The team validated the results using a second dataset consisting of more than 100 patients with lesions caused by the penetration of head injuries from combat during the Vietnam War. These participants also answered questionnaires that included religious questions (such as “Do you think you are a religious person? Yes or no?”).

Of the 88 neurosurgery patients, 30 showed a decrease in self-reported psychological beliefs before and after neurosurgery brain tumor resection, 29 showed an increase, and 29 showed no change. Using lesion network mapping, the team discovered that self-reported mentality was mapped to specific brain circuits centered around PAG. The circuit contained positive and negative nodes. Lesions that destroyed each of these nodes reduced or increased self-reported psychological beliefs. Results on religion from the second dataset that are consistent with these findings. In addition, in a review of the literature, researchers found several case reports of patients who became hyperreligious after experiencing brain lesions that affected the negative nodes of the circuit.

The location of lesions associated with other neurological and psychiatric symptoms also intersected the psychiatric circuit. Specifically, the lesions that cause parkinsonism intersected the positive regions of the circuit, as did the lesions associated with decreased mentality. Delusion-causing lesions and alien limb syndrome intersected with negative areas associated with increased spirituality and religion.

“It’s important to note that these duplications can help you understand sharing features and associations, but you shouldn’t over-interpret these results,” Ferguson said. I will. “For example, our results mean that religion is a delusion, that historic religions suffer from alien limb syndrome, or that Parkinson’s disease is caused by a lack of religious beliefs. Instead, our results show the deep roots of spiritual beliefs in parts of our brain that are involved in many important functions. “

The authors do not provide a wealth of information on the development of patients whose datasets they used may affect their mental beliefs, and patients in both datasets are primarily from Christian culture. It states that it was. To understand the generalizability of their results, they will need to replicate their work across many backgrounds. The team is also interested in unraveling religious and spirituality to understand the brain circuits that may be driving the difference. In addition, Ferguson wants to pursue clinical and translational applications of the findings, including understanding the potential role of spirituality and compassion in clinical treatment.

“Medical and spirituality have been separated from each other very recently. There seems to be this lasting bond between healing and spirituality across cultures and civilizations,” Ferguson said. “How do I understand brain circuits to create scientifically-founded, clinically translatable questions about how healing and spirituality can inform each other? I’m curious about how useful it is. “

Reference: “Mental and religious nerves from patients with brain lesions” by Michael A. Ferguson, Frederick LWVJ Shaper, Alexander Cohen, Shansidiki, Sarah M. Merrill, Jared A. Nielsen, Jordan Grafman, Kojimo Urgesi, Franco Circuit “Fabbro and Michael D. Fox, June 29, 2021 Biological psychiatry..
DOI: 10.1016 / j.biopsych.2021.06.016

Funding for this work is NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Institutional Research Training Grant (T32MH112510), Child Neurology Foundation, Sidney R. Baer, ​​Jr. Courtesy of Shields Research Grant from Foundation, Nancy. Lurie Marks Foundation, Mather’s Foundation, Kaye Family Research Endowment, and National Institutes of Health (Grants R01 MH113929, R01 MH115949, and R01 AG060987).

Scientists identify specific human brain circuits for spirituality Scientists identify specific human brain circuits for spirituality

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