Neural consequences of religious belief on self-referential processing

Soc Neurosci. 2008;3(1):1-15. doi: 10.1080/17470910701469681.


Christianity strongly encourages its believers to surrender to God and to judge the self from God's perspective. We used functional MRI to assess whether this religious belief is associated with neural correlates of self-referential processing distinct from that of non-religious people. Non-religious and Christian participants were scanned while performing tasks of personal-trait judgments regarding the self or public persons. We found that, while self-judgment was linked to better memory of traits related to the self than to others, self-referential processing induced increased activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) for non-religious participants but in the dorsal MPFC for Christian participants. In addition, the dorsal MPFC activity was positively correlated with the rating scores of the importance of Jesus' judgment in subjective evaluation of a person's personality. Because the ventral and dorsal MPFC are respectively engaged in representation of stimulus self-relevance and evaluation of self-referential stimuli, our findings suggest that Christian beliefs result in weakened neural coding of stimulus self-relatedness but enhanced neural activity underlying evaluative processes applied to self-referential stimuli.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Christianity / psychology
  • Ego*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Religion*