Scientists think they have found the brain’s spirituality network

brains spiritual network

Scientists spent years looking for the ‘God Spot’ in the brain before concluding it didn’t exist.

Early candidates like the temporal or parietal lobes never panned out. And differences in how researchers define spirituality has also complicated things, because different areas of the brain light up when we use moral reasoning vs when we experience awe.

But what has remained clear is more than 80% of humans worldwide report being spiritual or religious.

Now, a group of researchers have used a method known as “lesion network mapping” to find the home of spirituality in the brain.

In their study, published in Biological Psychiatry, the researchers report that they have located a specific brain circuit for spirituality, found in the periaqueductal gray (PAG).

Only time will tell if that finding holds true or goes the way of other potential god spot candidates.

But spirituality, which can be broadly defined as a sense of connection with something greater than the self, is worth studying.

Many of the components associated with spirituality, namely connection, awe, empathy, altruism and compassion, are also solidly associated with happiness in the research.

The brain’s spiritual circuit

For this study, the researchers used a technique that has a long history in neuroscience, namely using the location of lesions in the brain to figure out what certain areas do.

Using a previously published dataset that included 88 neurosurgical patients with lesions in a variety of different places in their brains who were going to have the tumours surgically removed.

They compared their results with another dataset of >100 patients who experienced penetrating head trauma from combat during the Vietnam War.

These are two very different datasets, reflecting the challenges of doing this kind of research.

The surgical patients were surveyed about spiritual acceptance as contrasted with religiosity, with questions like “Do you consider yourself a religious person?” before and after their surgeries.

Before and after their neurosurgeries to remove brain tumours, 30 of the 88 patients showed a decrease in self-reported spiritual belief, 29 showed an increase, and 29 showed no change.

The researchers mapped this self-reported spirituality mapped to a particular brain circuit in the PAG. Continue reading

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: ,