How Your Brain Talks to God


Just where do thoughts about God light up in the brain? (Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Let's tread into controversial territory, shall we? If you believe a recent study from the National Institutes of Health, then your belief in God isn't all that special -- at least from a neurological standpoint.

Researchers recently hooked 40 test subjects up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) equipment and quizzed them about their beliefs, doubts and quandaries over the existence of a higher power, according to a story from NPR. This is the same technology that allows us to see what sections of the brain light up when we, say, contemplate the idea of beauty.

The results? The 40 brains in question reacted the same as if their owners were thinking about regular, everyday people. Negative and positive emotional responses varied, but researchers argue that the human brain doesn't handle religion in any particularly special way. According to neuroscientist Jordan Grafman, religious beliefs probably light up the same sections of the brain as normal water cooler talk because we developed these beliefs some 60,000 years ago to handle difficult social situations.

So what do you think? Does a test based around statements and questions accurately gauge the entire spectrum of religious experience? Would one exemplify the same mundane readings speaking in tongues or engaged in deep, meditative prayer?

Oh science and religion, will you two ever stop squabbling?

Reach out and touch faith at HowStuffWorks.com: How fMRI Works Is the brain hardwired for religion? Is the human brain still evolving?


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.