Religious beliefs influence neural substrates of self-reflection in Tibetans

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Previous transcultural neuroimaging studies have shown that the neural substrates of self-reflection can be shaped by different cultures. There are few studies, however, on the neural activity of self-reflection where religion is viewed as a form of cultural expression. The present study examined the self-processing of two Chinese ethnic groups (Han and Tibetan) to investigate the significant role of religion on the functional anatomy of self-representation. We replicated the previous results in Han participants with the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and left anterior cingulate cortex showing stronger activation in self-processing when compared with other-processing conditions. However, no typical self-reference pattern was identified in Tibetan participants on behavioral or neural levels. This could be explained by the minimal subjective sense of 'I-ness’ in Tibetan Buddhists. Our findings lend support to the presumed role of culture and religion in shaping the neural substrate of self.

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