A neural circuit for spirituality and religiosity derived fr
Over 80% of the global population consider themselves religious with even more identifying as spiritual. The study takes a new approach to mapping spirituality and religiosity and finds that spiritual acceptance can be localized to a specific brain circuit. This brain circuit is centered in the periaqueductal gray (PAG), a brainstem region that has been implicated in numerous functions, including fear conditioning, pain modulation, altruistic behaviors, and unconditional love.

In two independent brain lesion datasets (N1=88; N2=105), researchers apply lesion network mapping to test whether lesion locations associated with spiritual and religious belief maps to a specific human brain circuit.

They found that brain lesions associated with self-reported spirituality map to a brain circuit centered on the periaqueductal grey. The intersection of lesion locations with this same circuit aligned with self-reported religiosity in an independent dataset, as well as prior reports of lesions associated with hyper-religiosity. Lesion locations causing delusions and alien limb syndrome also intersected this circuit.

These findings suggest that spirituality and religiosity map to a common brain circuit centered on the periaqueductal grey, a brainstem region previously implicated in fear conditioning, pain modulation, and altruistic behavior.

Biological Psychiatry
Source: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2021.06.016