Scientists Establish A Link Between Brain Damage And Religious Fundamentalism

By Andrea D. Steffen | 22 February 2019
Exposing The Truth

Scientists found that damage in a certain part of the brain is linked to an increase in religious fundamentalism.

It is important to understand the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism from a psychological and neurological perspective because religious beliefs play a massive role in driving and influencing human behavior and politics throughout the world. Through the years, there has been a variety of research studies conducted to investigate the cognitive and neural systems involved in religious fundamentalism. One of them in particular, led by Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University, links brain damage and religious fundamentalism.

“We need to understand how distinct religious beliefs are from moral, legal, political, and economic beliefs in their representations in the brain, the nature of conversion from one belief system to another, the difference between belief and agency, and the nature of the depth of knowledge that individuals use to access and report their beliefs.” – Grafman

Raw Story defines religious beliefs to be “thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real.” While empirical beliefs are “based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge.”

The difference between the two lies in the fact that religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations like empirical beliefs are. Because of this, religious beliefs are strongly associated with conservatism, meaning that they are fixed and rigid. That is why conservatism is therefore used to help promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

Religious fundamentalism is defined as “an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals and discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues.” Anything that questions or challenges religious fundamentalists beliefs or way of life is generally opposed.

That is why there is a greater chance that they will often be aggressive towards anyone who does not share their specific set of supernatural beliefs. They will most likely also reject science. These oppositions are seen as existential threats to their entire worldview.

Grafman’s research utilized data gathered from Vietnam War veterans as part of the Vietnam Head Injury Study. They compared levels of religious fundamentalism between 119 vets who had lesions and 30 veterans who didn’t. Every person took the same set of tests (questionnaires).

We all possess a mental trait called ‘cognitive flexibility’ – the brain’s ability to easily switch from thinking about one concept to another, and to think about multiple things simultaneously. Through evolutionary necessity, we acquired this useful skill. It allows us to update beliefs in light of new evidence. Psychologically speaking, cognitive flexibility is a term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Cognitive flexibility allows individuals to make more accurate predictions about the world under new and changing conditions and is therefore a crucial mental characteristic for adapting to new environments. This ability is a role of the prefrontal cortex. They discovered that through brain imaging research.

“The variation in the nature of religious beliefs are governed by specific brain areas in the anterior parts of the human brain and those brain areas are among the most recently evolved areas of the human brain.” – Grafman

If there is damage to the prefrontal cortex in an individual then their cognitive flexibility may be impaired. It means that open-mindedness presents a challenge; and since religious fundamentalism involves a strict adherence to a rigid set of beliefs, it would seem like the comfortable option for such an individual.

This is why Dr. Grafman and his team predicted that participants with lesions to this region of the brain would score low on measures of cognitive flexibility and trait openness and high on measures of religious fundamentalism – which they did. These results suggest that damage to the vmPFC (prefrontal cortex region specific to cognitive flexibility) indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by suppressing both cognitive flexibility and openness.

In conclusion, these findings suggest that impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex—whether from brain trauma, a psychological disorder, a drug or alcohol addiction, or simply a particular genetic profile—can make an individual susceptible to religious fundamentalism. What this means is that in some people, the system of “belief revision” may become suppressed due to brain damage.

This study is just intended to be a contribution to a growing body of knowledge about how religious experiences are formed in the brain. For further information, you can read the study called “Biological and cognitive underpinnings of religious fundamentalism” which was published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Reprinted with permission.

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  1. I drank a lot of alcohol starting in the eighth grade and until I was about twenty-five. Some events and new found knowledge inspired me to quit. I was not a very nice person when I was drunk. It was a very good thing that I quit alcohol. I have a friend who is a decade younger than I. She started drinking early like I did. She never quit and over the decades she changed. She really became a different person. Not nearly as good a person as she was in her twenties. She became a 'Christian' as in an evangelical. She became amoral and used people for their value. Mostly for their money and status. Once she had empathy, but not so much now or maybe not at all. She totally drank the Kool-Aid and devoted herself to the promotion of donald trump. I couldn't fathom how this change in her could happen. I wondered if she had suffered brain damage due to alcohol. I think that may well be a large part of what happened. I hope that I am wrong, but I think the damage is done. I am sad. I don't think that anything I could do or say would help her regain the person she was and might be only hurtful and not helpful. I don't think that any damage she may have suffered to her brain from the alcohol is her fault.

    Over a period of years smoking fell from favor. People began to take seriously the injury that they might visit upon themselves. Where I live many more people don't smoke now as in the past and the support group of fellow smokers is smaller by far. Perhaps people who drink will start taking the possible long term effects of alcohol seriously. Especially women who fare worse than their male drinking counterparts. There needs to be more education a long these lines. Their alcohol drinking support group would shrink and that would allow for more personal introspection. I miss my friend.

    • I drink alcohol, but I am a responsible drinker… In fact, I had a glass of wine last night… That's it… Alcohol can do damage, in moderation it has health benefits… Too much of anything can do damage… Hell, too much sugar or caffeine can do damage… Some people just don't know when to quit.. I also smoke cigarettes… However, I don't smoke a pack a day… A pack of cigarettes can last me maybe 2-2.5 days… I also have a brain injury, but I was born with it…

  2. If true, this would have implications for people in chronic pain. Untreated chronic pain isn't free. It isn't just a sensation. Among many other serious effects (autoimmue, auto-innflaitory, gut biome, shortened life span) untreated chronic pain causes ongoing damage to the white matter in the prefrontal cortex. This interferes with memory transfer between short term memory and working memory, negatively effects concentration, multitasking and memory formation, and is the result of damage to the myelin sheath (dismyelination).

    So if true… this means that a overall decline in flexible thinking and a reliance on logic. Another thing to look forward to as people continue to lie about the nature of the opiate crisis.

  3. Regarding the finding of aggressive reactions to and denial of evidence that is contrary to the fundamentalists' beliefs, note the aggressiveness of those who defend Trump [Jim Jordan, for example] compared to the more moderate approach of, well, political moderates.

  4. Good to know. But it wont change a bit. It depends also on the fact if science is ready to belief in what is really present without science being able to explain.


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