A New Study Links Brain Damage and Religious Fundamentalism

A New Study Links Brain Damage and Religious Fundamentalism

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Religious fundamentalists have long led the charge against LGBTQ rights around the world by labelling us as “immoral,” “unnatural,” “ungodly” and much worse. So it’s somewhat refreshing to read a recent study linking religious fundamentalism and brain damage. But before you assume that all anti-LGBTQ religious zealots have brain damage, it’s not that simple.

A new study study, published in the journal Neuropsychologia, looked at 119 Vietnam War veterans who received damage to their brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during active combat. These veterans were given a test to measure their religious fundamentalism, their “cognitive flexibility” (that is, the ability to challenge their own preexisting beliefs when presented with new evidence) and computerized tomography scans (CT scans) to asses the extent of their brain damage.

The brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex

Before we discuss the study’s findings, we should point out that “religious fundamentalism” in this case refers to the absolute acceptance of a sacred text or religious leader’s authority. For example, a religious fundamentalist might believe that their religious text is never wrong or that all other religions are incorrect and immoral.

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Researchers found that veterans who had more lesions (damaged tissue) on their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex had higher levels of religious fundamentalism and lower levels of cognitive flexibility.

These findings don’t imply that all religious people have brain damage or that religion causes brain damage but rather that brain damage in this particular part of the brain makes people less open to new ideas.

The study’s authors concluded, “These findings indicate that cognitive flexibility and openness are necessary for flexible and adaptive religious commitment, and that such diversity of religious thought is dependent on dorsolateral prefrontal cortex functionality.”

It’s also important to remember that religious beliefs don’t automatically make someone anti-LGBTQ. In fact, a 2017 poll found that most religious Americans actually oppose so-called “religious freedom laws” that would legally allow religious people to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

(Featured image by pastorscott via iStock Photography)

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