By observing patients prior to and post surgery to remove a brain tumour, a team of Italian researchers have discovered anatomical changes in the brain that may be linked to what they thought about religion and spirituality.
The team has uncovered another clue that directly links brain activity and spirituality.
"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," lead study author Dr. Cosimo Urgesi, from the University of Udine in Italy, was quoted as saying.
Dr. Urgesi's team scored patients on a personality train called self-transcendence (ST) before and after brain tumour surgery and combined analysis of those scores with advanced brain mapping.
They found selective damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions of the brain caused a specific increase in ST.
"Damage to posterior parietal areas induced unusually fast changes of a stable personality dimension related to transcendental self-referential awareness," Urgesi.
"Thus, dysfunctional parietal neural activity may underpin altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviours," Urgesi added.
Self-transcendence is thought by experts to be a measure of spiritual feeling, thinking and behaviours that reflects a decreased sense of self and an ability to identify oneself as an integral part of the universe.
The study has been published by Cell Press in the February 11 issue of the journal Neuron.