60-Second Mind

Where Is God?

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA provides support to the critics of the idea that a God spot exists in the brain. Christie Nicholson reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

One of the popular criticisms of fMRI brain imaging is the tendency for studies to plant flags in the brain. For instance claiming that one area is responsible for religion, and that the so-called “God spot” exists.

Critics say there is more to religious belief than a neural spot, as it involves faith and practice. So wide ranging networks of neurons may behave more like an R&B band, producing numerous melodies, rather than be dedicated solely to one rhythm.

Research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seems to support this side. Scientists scanned brains while subjects considered religious statements, one about God in our daily lives, “God’s will guides my family.” Another about God’s decrees, “God demands sacrifices.” And God’s emotions, “God is angered by human sin.”

All three types of statements sparked activity in well-known neural networks that also light up when we consider political beliefs, emotions, as well as abstract concepts, and when we understand others’ intentions.

Will we ever capture the idea of God in the brain? Most question this, after all, how does one find the region of soul in a rhythm and blues band?

—Christie Nicholson

Read more about this study in this 60-Second Science blog post.

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