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Personal Convictions May Control Both Behavior and Emotions

TUESDAY Dec. 11, 2007 -- Belief, disbelief and uncertainty activate distinct areas of the brain, says a University of California, Los Angeles study published online in the Annals of Neurology.

The study included 14 adults whose brain activity was monitored using functional magnetci resonance imaging (fMRI) while they evaluated a series of statements as true, false or uncertain. The statements included a broad variety of categories, including mathematics, geography and religion.

Belief was associated with increased activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), a brain area involved in linking factual knowledge with emotion.

"The involvement of the VMPFC in belief processing suggests an anatomical link between the purely cognitive aspects of belief and human emotion and reward," the study authors wrote.

Disbelief triggered increased activity in the anterior insula, a brain region involved in taste, pain and disgust.

"Our results appear to make sense of the emotional tone of disbelief, placing it on a continuum with other modes of stimulus appraisal and rejection," the study authors wrote.

Uncertainty prompted increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and decreased activity in the caudate, a region in the basal ganglia, which is involved in motor action. Belief and disbelief both boosted activity in the caudate.

The findings suggest that it may one day be possible to use brain scans to reliably detect belief, disbelief and uncertainty in people.

"This would have obvious implications for the detection of deception, for the control of a placebo effect during the process of drug design, and for the study of any higher cognitive phenomenon in which the differences between belief, disbelief and uncertainty might be a relevant variable," the researchers concluded.

More information

Learn more about the human brain at Harvard University.

Posted: December 2007


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