Friday, July 09, 2010

Religious beliefs influence neural substrates of self-reflection in Tibetans

Excellent article from Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience - a look at the ways in which religious beliefs change the brain's neural substrates, particularly in Tibetan Buddhists. Unfortunately, the full article costs serious $$.

The article suggests that our sense of self - all the way down to the neural substrate - is shaped by our culture and religion. +1 for constructivist theory.

Religious beliefs influence neural substrates of self-reflection in Tibetans

Yanhong Wu, Cheng Wang, Xi He, Lihua Mao and Li Zhang

Correspondence should be addressed to Li Zhang, Department of Psychology, Capital Normal University, 83 Xisanhuan North Rd., Beijing 100089, PR China. E-mail: Correspondence should also be addressed to Yanhong Wu, Department of Psychology, Peking University, 5 Yiheyuan Rd., Beijing 100879, PR China. Email:
  • Received March 15, 2009.
  • Accepted February 2, 2010.


Previous transcultural neuroimaging studies have shown that the neural substrates of self-reflection can be shaped by different cultures. There are few studies, however, on the neural activity of self-reflection where religion is viewed as a form of cultural expression. The present study examined the self-processing of two Chinese ethnic groups (Han and Tibetan) to investigate the significant role of religion on the functional anatomy of self-representation. We replicated the previous results in Han participants with the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and left anterior cingulate cortex showing stronger activation in self-processing when compared with other-processing conditions. However, no typical self-reference pattern was identified in Tibetan participants on behavioral or neural levels. This could be explained by the minimal subjective sense of 'I-ness’ in Tibetan Buddhists. Our findings lend support to the presumed role of culture and religion in shaping the neural substrate of self.

If anyone has access to the full article and wants to share, please drop me a note.

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