In the next decade, will neuroscience give us more of a glimpse into our spiritual brains?

In the Feb. 11, 2010 issue of Neuron, Italian researchers report on their experiments surrounding the personality trait of “self-transcendence” which is meant to be a measure of spiritual orientation.

Through analyzing self-transcendence scores of brain tumor patients both before & after their tumors were removed, they made another step towards drawing the link between brain activity and spirituality in a measurable way.


Here are the highlights of their work–full article downloadable here:

  • Self-transcendence is a stable personality trait measuring predisposition to spirituality
  • Brain damage induces specific and fast modulations of self-transcendence
  • Self-transcendence increases after damage to lt and rt inferior parietal cortex


  • 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.

For those interested in learning more, here is an accessible summary in Science Daily.  Thanks to Mark Schar for pointing me towards this fascinating research!