Send to

Choose Destination
Soc Neurosci. 2014;9(4):400-11. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2014.906366. Epub 2014 Apr 10.

Supernatural believers attribute more intentions to random movement than skeptics: an fMRI study.

Author information

a Division of Cognitive Psychology and Neuropsychology, Institute of Behavioural Sciences , University of Helsinki , Helsinki , Finland.


A host of research has attempted to explain why some believe in the supernatural and some do not. One suggested explanation for commonly held supernatural beliefs is that they are a by-product of theory of mind (ToM) processing. However, this does not explain why skeptics with intact ToM processes do not believe. We employed fMRI to investigate activation differences in ToM-related brain circuitries between supernatural believers (N = 12) and skeptics (N = 11) while they watched 2D animations of geometric objects moving intentionally or randomly and rated the intentionality of the animations. The ToM-related circuitries in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) were localized by contrasting intention-rating-related and control-rating-related brain activation. Compared with the skeptics, the supernatural believers rated the random movements as more intentional and had stronger activation of the ToM-related circuitries during the animation with random movement. The strength of the ToM-related activation covaried with the intentionality ratings. These findings provide evidence that differences in ToM-related activations are associated with supernatural believers' tendency to interpret random phenomena in mental terms. Thus, differences in ToM processing may contribute to differences between believing and unbelieving.


Intentionality; Supernatural beliefs; Theory of mind; fMRI

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Loading ...
Support Center