Brain damage makes people more spiritual

Posted by Emma Woollacott

It would be a lot easier than converting the Godless: a quick bash at the right bit of the brain, and they could be as religious and righteous as you.

New research into brain-damaged patients has shown that damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions brings on spiritual feelings.

A team at the University of Udine in Italy studied  patients before and after surgery to remove a brain tumor. They were interested in making a direct link between brain activity and spirituality.

They focused specifically on the personality trait called self-transcendence (ST), which is thought to be a measure of spiritual feeling, thinking, and behavior in humans. It reflects a decreased sense of self and an ability to identify one's self as an integral part of the universe as a whole.

The researchers examined ST scores obtained from brain tumor patients before and after they had surgery to remove their tumor, with advanced techniques for mapping the exact location of the brain lesions after surgery.

"This approach allowed us to explore the possible changes of ST induced by specific brain lesions and the causative role played by frontal, temporal, and parietal structures in supporting interindividual differences in ST," says researcher Dr Franco Fabbro.

The group found that selective damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions induced a specific increase in ST.

"Our symptom-lesion mapping study is the first demonstration of a causative link between brain functioning and ST," says Dr Urgesi.

"Damage to posterior parietal areas induced unusually fast changes of a stable personality dimension related to transcendental self-referential awareness. Thus, dysfunctional parietal neural activity may underpin altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors."

The results could lead to new strategies for treating some forms of mental illness, they say.