Our study compares religious thinking with ordinary cognition and, as such, constitutes a step toward developing a neuropsychology of religion.
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure signal changes in the brains of thirty subjects—fifteen committed Christians and fifteen nonbelievers—as they evaluated the truth and falsity of religious and nonreligious propositions.
For both groups, and in both categories of stimuli, belief (judgments of “true” vs judgments of “false”) was associated with greater signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area important for self-representation , , , , emotional associations , reward , , , and goal-driven behavior . This region showed greater signal whether subjects believed statements about God, the Virgin Birth, etc. or statements about ordinary facts.
A comparison of both stimulus categories suggests that religious thinking is more associated with brain regions that govern emotion, self-representation, and cognitive conflict, while thinking about ordinary facts is more reliant upon memory retrieval networks.