New Study Links Brain Damage And Religious Fundamentalism

A new study has found a link between brain damage and religious fundamentalism.

Published in Neuropsychologia, the study reveals that religious fundamentalism is partially the result of a functional impairment in the prefrontal cortex.

Writes Raw Story:

The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

To investigate the cognitive and neural systems involved in religious fundamentalism, a team of researchers—led by Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University—conducted a study that utilized data from Vietnam War Veterans that had been gathered previously. The vets were specifically chosen because a large number of them had damage to brain areas suspected of playing a critical role in functions related to religious fundamentalism. CT scans were analyzed comparing 119 vets with brain trauma to 30 healthy vets with no damage, and a survey that assessed religious fundamentalism was administered. While the majority of participants were Christians of some kind, 32.5% did not specify a particular religion.

What’s more, brain imaging research has confirmed “that a major neural region associated with cognitive flexibility is the prefrontal cortex—specifically two areas known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).”

This is noteworthy because as the researchers predicted, the results of the study showed that “damage to the vmPFC and dlPFC was associated with religious fundamentalism.”

There may be other factors that also leave the brain vulnerable to religious fundamentalism, “from genetic predispositions to social influences”. But this will be up to other researchers to determine.