You may be a believer in some god or not, or you may simply be an agnostic and don't know what to expect exactly. In other words: you don't believe or stop believing. In any case, some studies have already related certain brain processes with the ability or predisposition to believe in a god or not.
- 1 The mentalization process
- 2 Brain activity during prayer
- 3 And what happens to people with a mental disorder?
The mentalization process
When we put ourselves in the place of the other, trying to decipher and codify their thoughts and work accordingly, this process is called mentalization. And it has much more to do with religious beliefs than you might think a priori.
Believers are able, to a greater or lesser degree, to think of God as a subject who will be attentive to each of their actions, which will be rewarded or punished in one way or another.
In this way, believing people tend to put themselves in the mind of their god to act accordingly, thinking about the possible repercussions that their actions and behaviors could have.
Also when people pray, this is taken as a conversation with God, in which they are pending to comply with their standards or to do their will. So the mentalization process is key, activating certain brain regions.
According to a study conducted at the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, during the prayer a response is activated BOLD in the caudate nucleus, thus activating the reward system. Interesting, right?
To understand it much more easily: believing people who pray get a great feeling of relief and well-being caused by the reward system of your brain As long as they meet the standards and communicate with God, such a reward system will be activated.
Even so, every culture and every person in itself is a world. The truth is that there will be much more analytical people, or that due to their academic background or experience, are more or less likely to be believers and have a more or less intense relationship with God.
Without going any further, the safest thing is that within your environment you meet more or less thoughtful people with very different or totally different opinions and attitudes regarding religion and their beliefs. If this is true in smaller environments, imagine more globally.
Brain activity during prayer
But beyond mere speculation, studies have been carried out to verify and analyze the brain activity of all those who pray, both following prayers such as the Our Father or more "officers", as well as those less structured and spontaneous.
To more reliably contrast the results obtained, the subjects of the experiment in Denmark were also asked to make a mental request for Christmas gifts to Santa Claus, as well as to pronounce a lullaby without much meaning.
What was observed was surprising: free and spontaneous prayer it gave rise to a strong activation of the medial prefrontal cortex, the temporopariental junction, the temporopolar zone and the precutaneous one, without generating the aforementioned BOLD response.
Thus, brain activity during spontaneous prayer was similar to the one that takes place when we have a conversation with another human being. Likewise, activation in the prefrontal cortex was also observed.
This area would be responsible for judging the intentions of other people. Activity was also evidenced in another area that would help us recover previous memories, allowing us to identify new situations with some previous ones in order to think about how God would act, and thus generate a corresponding response.
Such prefrontal cortex, however, would not be activated by having any conversation or exchange with inanimate beings or that we perceive directly as fictional beings, such as fictional characters from movies or video games.
This is because we would not really expect anything from these characters nor would we put ourselves in their minds to think about their intentions. This finding suggests then that when we pray, we do perceive our god as a real being.
And what happens to people with some mental disorder?
Certainly, believing in some god could be much more difficult for people who demonstrate a mental disorder. Such is the case of people with autism. It is very difficult for these people to express and recognize emotions.
Therefore, it is to be expected that it will cost them much more to carry out the mentalization process just as other people would do in a completely natural way and without much effort. If people with autism they get it, they would profess a less intense and plausible faith.
In summary, These studies do not demonstrate or reject the existence of God, only the processes and brain activations that occur among believers in a completely natural way and without them even being able to realize.