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Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2013 Dec;8(8):943-9. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss096. Epub 2012 Sep 5.

Is it just a brick wall or a sign from the universe? An fMRI study of supernatural believers and skeptics.

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  • 1Division of Cognitive Psychology and Neuropsychology, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, P.O. Box 9, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland. marjaana.lindeman@helsinki.fi.


We examined with functional magnetic resonance imaging the brain activity of 12 supernatural believers and 11 skeptics who first imagined themselves in critical life situations (e.g. problems in intimate relationships) and then watched emotionally charged pictures of lifeless objects and scenery (e.g. two red cherries bound together). Supernatural believers reported seeing signs of how the situations were going to turn out in the pictures more often than skeptics did. Viewing the pictures activated the same brain regions among all participants (e.g. the left inferior frontal gyrus, IFG). However, the right IFG, previously associated with cognitive inhibition, was activated more strongly in skeptics than in supernatural believers, and its activation was negatively correlated to sign seeing in both participant groups. We discuss the implications of these findings for research on the universal processes that may underlie supernatural beliefs and the role of cognitive inhibition in explaining individual differences in such beliefs.


cognitive inhibition; fMRI; sign; supernatural

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[Available on 2014/12/1]
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