Advertisement
Research Article

The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief

  • Sam Harris equal contributor,

    equal contributor Contributed equally to this work with: Sam Harris, Jonas T. Kaplan

    Affiliations: UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Reason Project, Santa Monica, California, United States of America

    X
  • Jonas T. Kaplan equal contributor,

    equal contributor Contributed equally to this work with: Sam Harris, Jonas T. Kaplan

    Affiliation: Brain and Creativity Institute and Department of Psychology, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, California, United States of America

    X
  • Ashley Curiel,

    Affiliation: Department of Clinical Psychology, Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, California, United States of America

    X
  • Susan Y. Bookheimer,

    Affiliations: Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Department of Psychology, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America

    X
  • Marco Iacoboni,

    Affiliations: UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America

    X
  • Mark S. Cohen mail

    mscohen@ucla.edu

    Affiliations: Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, The Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Departments of Neurology, Radiological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, and Biomedical Physics, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Department of Psychology, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, California, United States of America

    X
  • Published: October 01, 2009
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007272

Reader Comments (11)

Post a new comment on this article

Where does belief reside?

Posted by essecj on 01 Oct 2009 at 07:56 GMT

We know little about how human consciousness works. Is it possible that what we see on brain scans is the physical correlate of a fundamental, whole-mind process that is currently beyond our detection? I ask this because the study shows which areas of the brain are active during a question/answer task, but for me it sheds no light on where in the brain a belief actually resides. So I am left to ponder a feedback loop between the physical brain and what I'll call the field of consciousness. (I am a non-scientist and apologize in advance if this post betrays ignorance. But I mean well!)

No competing interests declared.

RE: Where does belief reside?

mscohen replied to essecj on 01 Oct 2009 at 16:42 GMT

No apologies needed. There is no consensus among neuroscience about the residence of memory, belief, consciousness or most any higher level brain process, though we can say a lot about vision, audition, motor control, etc... I think that most would agree that more abstract functions are actually distributed, albeit inhomogeneously, across much of the brain.

Our study refers not to where belief resides, but to regions of the brain that are active in processing questions of belief. Where does the image on your TV 'reside'? Well, I can tell you that if I disconnect the video inputs, it is gone. I can also tell you which parts of the device use more energy when the image is on the screen. These metaphors, I think, speak pretty accurately about our present understanding of the brain.

No competing interests declared.

RE: RE: Where does belief reside?

essecj replied to mscohen on 02 Oct 2009 at 21:53 GMT

Thanks. Now, I came away not clear on whether there were meaningful differences in the processing regions between the two groups. Were there? Separate question: To what extent might your results correlate with recent studies on the placebo effect (that is, does belief have a placebo effect)?

No competing interests declared.

RE: RE: RE: Where does belief reside?

preternat replied to essecj on 09 Oct 2009 at 07:28 GMT

Yes, there were differences. Click on a graphic to see them. However, my interpretation is that the differences weren't necessarily exclusive to religious believers vs non-religious believers. Perhaps the results could have been duplicated by asking different kinds of believers vs non-believers. Eg "country music is the best kind of music in the world" (true/false). Or "the war in Iraq was a good war".

Or (related to the placebo effect) "homeopathy can cure diseases". Or "medicine man in forest make bad spirits flee".

I wouldn't mind being corrected or enlightened further, of course.

No competing interests declared.