Source: Big Think
By Paul Rainer
Science and religion are fighting it out in your brain, not just in a metaphorical sense, but in a real, physical altercation. That’s the conclusion drawn by researchers from Case Western Reserve University and Babson College.
They found that people who believe in a god, or some spiritual essence, suppress the brain network for analytical thinking and instead engage the empathetic network. “When there’s a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd,” said the research team’s leader Professor Tony Jack. “But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical/analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight.”
The researchers conducted eight experiments, each one with 159 to 527 adults, and found a correlation that the more empathetic person was more likely religious. This also fits with a previous finding that women tend to be more religious or spiritual than men, which can now be explained by their stronger tendency towards empathy.
On the flip side of that, atheists were found to be most aligned with psychopaths — people classified as such due to their lack of empathy. Take that, obnoxious college buddy.
The researchers also concluded (probably controversially) that religious people tend to be not as smart, or perhaps intelligence is not as important a characteristic to them. “Our studies confirmed that statistical relationship, but at the same time showed that people with faith are more prosocial and empathic,” said Richard Boyatzis, a Case Western University Reserve Professor.
The research is based on the previous fMRI study by the team that showed the human brain having an analytical network of neurons that allowed for critical thought in opposition to a social network that enabled empathy. Since humans are wired to use both networks, a math problem or an ethics question would trigger one of the networks while suppressing the other.
According to Jack, “that may be the key to why beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures. It appeals to an essentially nonmaterial way of understanding the world and our place in it.”