How brain injury can cause religious fanaticism

Each of us has a way of seeing the world, our own system of values ​​and beliefs which makes us observe, analyze and judge reality in a certain way. Within these value systems, a large proportion of the population he understands spiritual and religious beliefs, In many cases, acquired and assimilated through culture and education. And in some cases, these beliefs and their reinforcement throughout life can give rise to inflexible interpretations of how the world is or should be.

Additionally, this lack of cognitive flexibility is not always the product of learning, but there are injuries and alterations in different parts of the brain that can make it difficult or even lose enough cognitive flexibility to accept others. possible interpretations of reality, so that only one’s own beliefs are acceptable. We are talking about how brain injury can provoke religious fanaticism.

    Religious beliefs and sectarianism

    Religious beliefs are understood as the set of ideas held to be true by those who profess them and which generally include references to a specific way of seeing and interpreting existence and reality.

    Along with other types of values ​​and beliefs, they are part of the value system from which we organize our action and our existence in the world. They are a specific way of making sense of reality based on experience or information transmitted by society and culture. In themselves, they are neither positive nor negative, but more part of each person’s idiosyncrasy. And under normal conditions, they are not necessarily exclusive to other forms of interpretation either.

    however, sometimes people limit their perspective on reality to one or a group of beliefs in particular, rejecting the possibility of the existence of other alternatives and considering his as the only valid one.

    If the defense of this belief system becomes vehement and passionate to the point of becoming irrationalAttempts to impose these beliefs on others and exclude the possibility of criticizing them or the viability of other alternatives can be seen as we are faced with the presence of fanaticism. One of the main aspects that differentiates bigotry from belief (whether religious or not) is the loss of cognitive flexibility and openness to new perspectives.

    Cognitive flexibility

    One of the main and most important executive functions, cognitive flexibility, is that ability that allows human beings to be able to change their cognitions and behaviors based on new information from outside or from processing and processing. of “ that because of reasoning. ”

    This ability enables us to cope with changes in the natural and social environment and allows us to survive, generate new strategies and adopt new approaches. It serves to reorganize our mental structure and our value systems and beliefs based on existing information. It also allows us to learn from experience and connect with reality.

    The absence or the diminished presence of this capacity makes, on the contrary, that we are less well prepared to face the alterations of the environment and to assume the arrival of novelties from others to the thing already known. Behavior and thought become rigid and perseverance, and survival and adaptation are often hampered.

    Evidence from research: effects of prefrontal injuries

    Various researches have reported that part of the brain areas linked to our belief systems are linked to one of the brain regions most relevant to human action and social functioning: the frontal cortex.

    Specifically, a link was detected between the ability to reorganize our cognition and beliefs based on experience and to accept new possibilities and the ventromedial prefrontal area. This zone helps to regulate emotional perception and expression and has a strong implication in the management of motivation, response to the environment and human creativity.

    Injury in this area has been shown to decrease creative capacity and the imagination of the human being, in addition to their mental flexibility and the ability to visualize and understand new perspectives. Openness to experience, one of the main personality traits, is also greatly reduced.

    However, it should be noted that the data was extracted from analyzing a sample limited to different Vietnam War veterans with or without brain injuries, implying that they are mostly American men. of a certain age and cultural characteristics and specific experiences and beliefs. Thus, the results can hardly be generalized to other cultures, religions or subjects with other characteristics.

    Implications of this research

    It is important to note that the data reflected by these surveys refer to the presence of sectarianism and the relationship between it and the loss of mental flexibility resulting from head trauma. It’s not about attacking religious beliefs, Which are still a way of trying to organize and explain the world, which is not the intention of this article or the research on which it is based.

    It should also not be considered that all people with a high level of religious bigotry suffer from brain damage or prefrontal problems, there is a great environmental and educational influence in the emergence and development of the ability to see and accept new perspectives or the difficulty in doing so.

    What this research reflects is that certain brain damage can lead to loss of cognitive flexibility that can lead to fanaticism. And not only to religious, but also related to other types of stimuli or beliefs.

    This research could help pinpoint which areas of the brain are related to beliefs and open-mindedness and help establish strategies and mechanisms for dealing with the presence of disorders in which mental rigidity and other disorders resulting from injuries and illnesses.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Zhong, W .; Cristofori, I .; Bulbulia, J .; Krueger F. and Grafman, J. (2017). Biological and cognitive foundations of religious fundamentalism. Neuropsychology., 100. 18-25.

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