The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence

The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence

Cosimo Urgesi, Salvatore M. Aglioti, Miran Skrap and Franco Fabbro

Neuron, Volume 65, Issue 3, 11 February 2010, Pages 309-319, doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.01.026


The predisposition of human beings toward spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors is measured by a supposedly stable personality trait called self-transcendence. Although a few neuroimaging studies suggest that neural activation of a large fronto-parieto-temporal network may underpin a variety of spiritual experiences, information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking. Combining pre- and post-neurosurgery personality assessment with advanced brain-lesion mapping techniques, we found that selective damage to left and right inferior posterior parietal regions induced a specific increase of self-transcendence. Therefore, modifications of neural activity in temporoparietal areas may induce unusually fast modulations of a stable personality trait related to transcendental self-referential awareness. These results hint at the active, crucial role of left and right parietal systems in determining self-transcendence and cast new light on the neurobiological bases of altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors in neurological and mental disorders.

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