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UCLA study shows different areas of the brain respond to belief, disbelief and uncertainty
Date:12/12/2007

The human mind is a prolific generator of beliefs about the world. The capacity of our minds to believe or disbelieve linguistic propositions is a powerful force for controlling both behavior and emotion, but the basis of this process in the brain is not yet understood.

In the January issue of Annals of Neurology, currently online, Sam Harris, a UCLA graduate student in the lab of Mark Cohen, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and a study co-author, and Sameer Sheth of Massachusetts General Hospital, report that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) reveals clear differences in the areas of the brain involved in belief, disbelief and uncertainty.

Their results suggest that the differences among these cognitive states may one day be distinguished reliably, in real time, by techniques of neuroimaging. This finding has implications for the detection of deception, for the control of the placebo effect during drug design and for the study of any higher cognitive phenomenon in which the differences among belief, disbelief and uncertainty might be relevant.

Fourteen adult volunteers were scanned in an MRI device at UCLA's Brain Imaging Center. While inside the scanner, subjects were presented with written statements covering a broad range of topics, including mathematics, geography, factual knowledge, word definitions, religion, ethics and biographical facts about themselves. Subjects were asked to rate these statements as true, false or undecidable. The authors then compared the brain images recorded when their subjects believed, disbelieved or could not judge the truth-value of these written propositions.

The scientists predicted that the difference between belief and disbelief would be largely mediated by activity in the frontal lobes the part of the brain most enlarged and differentiated in humans. Indeed, when belief and disbelief were compared, the investigators saw dif
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Contact: Mark Wheeler
mwheeler@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2265
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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