Brain mechanisms in religion and spirituality: An integrative predictive processing framework

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Abstract

We present the theory of predictive processing as a unifying framework to account for the neurocognitive basis of religion and spirituality. Our model is substantiated by discussing four different brain mechanisms that play a key role in religion and spirituality: temporal brain areas are associated with religious visions and ecstatic experiences; multisensory brain areas and the default mode network are involved in self-transcendent experiences; the Theory of Mind-network is associated with prayer experiences and over attribution of intentionality; top-down mechanisms instantiated in the anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex could be involved in acquiring and maintaining intuitive supernatural beliefs. We compare the predictive processing model with two-systems accounts of religion and spirituality, by highlighting the central role of prediction error monitoring. We conclude by presenting novel predictions for future research and by discussing the philosophical and theological implications of neuroscientific research on religion and spirituality.

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