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

ferences principally in a region known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), near the front of the brain, along its midline.

"The involvement of the VMPFC in belief processing suggests an anatomical link between the purely cognitive aspects of belief and human emotion and reward," the authors said. "The fact that ethical belief showed a similar pattern of activation to mathematical belief suggests that the physiological difference between belief and disbelief may be independent of content or emotional associations."

The areas especially engaged in disbelief included the limbic system's cingulate areas and the anterior insula, a brain region known to report visceral sensations such as pain and disgust and to be involved largely in negative appraisals of sensations like taste and smell.

"Our results appear to make sense of the emotional tone of disbelief, placing it on a continuum with other modes of stimulus appraisal and rejection," the authors said. "False propositions might actually disgust us."

When the subjects experienced uncertainty, yet another pattern emerged. A different portion of the cingulate cortex, located closer to the front of the brain, showed a much stronger signal. This so-called "anterior cingulate" cortex frequently shows up in studies of conflict monitoring, error detection and cognitive interference. When compared to both belief and disbelief, the state of uncertainty also showed a decreased signal in the caudate, a region of the basal ganglia, which plays a role in motor action.

Noting that uncertainty differs from both belief and disbelief by not allowing us to settle upon "a specific, actionable interpretation of the world," the authors suggest that the basal ganglia may play a role in mediating the cognitive and behavioral differences between decision and indecision.

Taken together, these data offer insight into the way in which our brains work to form beliefs
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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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