Religious beliefs, according to RAWSTORY, can be understood as socially transmitted mental representations that are made up of supernatural events as well as entities that are assumed to be real.
And those beliefs can be different from empirical beliefs — which are based on how the world appears to be currently, and is updated periodically.
But religious beliefs are not updated when new information or scientific explanation is found — and so, religious beliefs are often grouped with conservatism.
Usually, they are fixed and rigid, which aids in promoting predictability and coherence to the rules of society for individuals in said group.
Religious fundamentalism is an ideology that praises traditional religious texts and rituals, while discouraging progressive thinking about religion and social issues.
Fundamentalists also do not approve of anything that either questions or challenges their beliefs or way of life and usually, they are aggressive towards anyone who does not share their supernatural beliefs, while science is a threat to their worldview.
And it should be noted that religious beliefs play a huge role in both leading and influencing human behavior throughout the world.
That is why it is so important to understand religious fundamentalism from both a psychological and neurological perspective.
Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University spearheaded a study that used data from Vietnam War veterans. They were chosen specifically as a big portion of them had damage to brain areas that played a vital role in functions related to religious fundamentalism.
CT scans then analyzed and compared 119 vets with brain trauma against 30 healthy vets with zero damage.
A survey that assessed religious fundamentalist was then given.
Based on their previous research, the experimenters predicted how the prefrontal cortex would play a huge role in religious fundamentalism – as this region is known to be associated with something called “cognitive flexibility.”
What is this, you ask?
It is a term that refers to the brain’s ability to easily switch from thinking about one concept, to another — and to think about multiple things, simultaneously. This flexibility allows organisms to update beliefs with new evidence — and this trait most likely evolved due to the survival advantage of individuals making more accurate predictions about the world as it changes.
Brain imaging research has additionally proven how a major neural region which is associated with cognitive flexibility is the prefrontal cortex — two areas known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).
Additionally, researchers were most curious about the vmPFC, as in past studies, there is a connection to fundamentalist-style beliefs.
One example is how in one particular study, individuals with vmPFC lesions rated radical political statements as more moderate than those with normal brains.
For reasons such as these, researchers looked at patients with lesions in both the vmPFC and dlPFC and looked for correlations between damage in these areas and responses to religious fundamentalism questionnaires.
To be expected, damage to the vmPFC and dlPFC was associated with religious fundamentalism.
And the data also suggests how damage to the vmPFC indirectly promotes religious fundamentalists by suppressing both cognitive flexibility and openness.
….which gives a whole new meaning to “were you dropped on your head as a baby?” in response to a radical political idea your uncle Barry may hold.
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