Finding God In The Brain

Have scientists discovered why some have a "talent" for religion?

ByABC News
February 10, 2010, 11:26 AM

Feb. 10, 2010— -- Medically speaking, it was just brain surgery. But for some patients, it was a spiritual reawakening.

Researchers report in a new study today that they have found regions of the brain that seem to impact a person's level of spirituality.

The researchers worked with 88 patients with tumors in various locations in the brain and found that those with damage in the parietal region -- located in the top rear region of the brain -- could be seen to have a change in their attitude toward spirituality, something that tends to be relatively constant in a person.

"This finding highlights the key role of parietal cortices in spirituality and suggests that changes of neural activity in specific areas may modify even inherently stable dispositional traits," explained Cosimo Urgesi, one of the study's lead researchers and an assistant professor in psychobiology and physiological psychology at the University of Udine in Italy.

The specific scale researchers used to determine spirituality is known as self-transcendence, a measure used to determine spirituality that appears to remain stable in a person over time.

The tumors researchers based on their findings on were gliomas, the same type of brain tumor with which doctors diagnosed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, that affects the brain tissue itself. Meningiomas, another type of brain tumor that does not affect tissue, did not have an impact on people in the study when removed, Urgesi said.

After the removal of gliomas from the rear of the brain, those patients showed a significant elevation in their level of self-transcendence.

The findings appear in the newest issue of the journal Neuron.

"You remove brain tissue and you get an enhancement of something," said Patrick McNamara, director of the Evolutionary Neurobehavior Laboratory at the Boston University School of Medicine.

He explained that the implication of this "paradoxical" finding is that the front and rear areas of the brain work in sync to regulate the level of spirituality of the brain. With the rear tissue damaged, the front controls more of the brain, raising the spirituality level.