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16970Selective Brain Damage Modulates Human Spirituality, Research Reveals

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  • medit8ionsociety
    Feb 12, 2010
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      ScienceDaily (Feb. 11, 2010)
      New research provides fascinating insight into
      brain changes that might underlie alterations
      in spiritual and religious attitudes. The study,
      published by Cell Press in the February 11
      issue of the journal Neuron, explores the neural
      basis of spirituality by studying patients before
      and after surgery to remove a brain tumor.

      Although it is well established that all behaviors
      and experiences, spiritual or otherwise, must
      originate in the brain, true empirical exploration
      of the neural underpinnings of spirituality has been
      challenging. However, recent advances in neuroscience
      have started to make the complex mental processes
      associated with religion and spirituality more accessible.

      "Neuroimaging studies have linked activity within
      a large network in the brain that connects the frontal,
      parietal, and temporal cortexes with spiritual
      experiences, but information on the causative link
      between such a network and spirituality is lacking,"
      explains lead study author, Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from
      the University of Udine in Italy.

      Dr. Urgesi and colleagues were interested in making
      a direct link between brain activity and spirituality.
      They focused specifically on the personality trait
      called self-transcendence (ST), which is thought to
      be a measure of spiritual feeling, thinking, and
      behaviors in humans. ST reflects a decreased sense
      of self and an ability to identify one's self as an
      integral part of the universe as a whole.

      The researchers combined analysis of ST scores
      obtained from brain tumor patients before and after
      they had surgery to remove their tumor, with advanced
      techniques for mapping the exact location of the
      brain lesions after surgery. "This approach allowed
      us to explore the possible changes of ST induced by
      specific brain lesions and the causative role played
      by frontal, temporal, and parietal structures in
      supporting interindividual differences in ST," says
      researcher Dr. Franco Fabbro from the University of

      The group found that selective damage to the left
      and right posterior parietal regions induced a specific
      increase in ST. "Our symptom-lesion mapping study is
      the first demonstration of a causative link between
      brain functioning and ST," offers Dr. Urgesi. "Damage
      to posterior parietal areas induced unusually fast
      changes of a stable personality dimension related to
      transcendental self-referential awareness. Thus,
      dysfunctional parietal neural activity may underpin
      altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors."

      These results may even lead to new strategies for
      treating some forms of mental illness. "If a stable
      personality trait like ST can undergo fast changes
      as a consequence of brain lesions, it would indicate
      that at least some personality dimensions may be
      modified by influencing neural activity in specific
      areas," suggests Dr. Salvatore M. Aglioti from
      Sapienza University of Rome. "Perhaps novel approaches
      aimed at modulating neural activity might ultimately
      pave the way to new treatments of personality disorders."

      The researchers include Cosimo Urgesi, Universita` di Udine, Udine, Italy, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico Eugenio Medea, Pordenone, Italy; Salvatore M. Aglioti, Sapienza Universita` di Roma, Roma, Italy, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico Fondazione S. Lucia, Roma, Italy; Miran Skrap, Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria Santa Maria della Misericordia, Udine, Italy; and Franco Fabbro, Universita` di Udine, Udine, Italy, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico Eugenio Medea, Pordenone, Italy.

      This article was published on the Science Daily
      web site and is being used in compliance with the Fair Use
      statutes and not for any commercial purposes
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