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Clinical Study
The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence
Cosimo Urgesi,1,2,* Salvatore M. Aglioti,3,4,* Miran Skrap,5 and Franco Fabbro1,2
` di Filosofia, Universita di Udine, via Margreth, 3, I-33100, Udine, Italy ` di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico Eugenio Medea, Polo Friuli Venezia Giulia, via della Bonta, 7, I-33078 San Vito alTagliamento (Pordenone), Italy 3Dipartimento di Psicologia, Sapienza Universita di Roma, via dei Marsi, 78, I-00185, Roma, Italy ` 4Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico Fondazione S. Lucia, via Ardeatina, 306, I-00179, Roma, Italy 5Struttura Operativa Complessa di Neurochirurgia, Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria Santa Maria della Misericordia, Piazzale Santa Maria della Misericordia, 15,I-33100, Udine, Italy *Correspondence: (C.U.), (S.M.A.) DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.01.026
2Istituto 1Dipartimento


The predisposition of human beings toward spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors is measured by a supposedly stable personality trait called self-transcendence. Although a few neuroimaging studies suggest thatneural activation of a large fronto-parieto-temporal network may underpin a variety of spiritual experiences, information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking. Combining pre- and post-neurosurgery personality assessment with advanced brain-lesion mapping techniques, we found that selective damage to left and right inferior posterior parietal regions induced aspecific increase of self-transcendence. Therefore, modifications of neural activity in temporoparietal areas may induce unusually fast modulations of a stable personality trait related to transcendental self-referential awareness. These results hint at the active, crucial role of left and right parietal systems in determining self-transcendence and cast new light on the neurobiological bases ofaltered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors in neurological and mental disorders.

INTRODUCTION Spirituality, i.e., the complex of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors (James, 2008; Paloutzian and Park, 2005; Spilka et al., 2003) that reflect a view of the human condition in transcendent contexts and in relation to unseen realities/supernatural agents, has long been considered impenetrableto empirical investigation. However, recent advances in cognitive and affective neuroscience have started the neuroscientific exploration of the mental processes and the neural underpinnings underlying spiritual experiences. Spirituality is a multidimensional construct reflecting the ultimate concerns of people largely independently from specific faith traditions (Emmons and Paloutzian, 2003). In ourstudy, we focused on an important component of spirituality,

namely the tendency to project the self into mental dimensions that transcend perceptual and motor bodily contingencies (Paloutzian and Park, 2005). Changes in the complex self-awareness that accompany the spiritual epiphanies of human beings may range from a detachment from current body perceptions and actions to states ofconsciousness characterized by weak selfother boundaries and feelings of a strong connection of the self with the universe as a whole (Cahn and Polich, 2006; Lutz et al., 2008a; Newberg and Iversen, 2003; Paloutzian and Park, 2005). Electrophysiological and neuroimaging studies in people of faith such as Catholic nuns or Buddhist monks, expert in different forms of meditation, indicate that thesephenomenological and introspective changes parallel neural changes in a cortical network that includes the prefrontal and cingulate cortex, temporal and parietal areas, and subcortical regions (Azari et al., 2001; Beauregard and Paquette, 2006; Brefczyn¨ ski-Lewis et al., 2007; Cahn and Polich, 2006; Holzel et al., 2007; Lazar et al., 2000; Lutz et al., 2004, 2008b; Newberg and Iversen, 2003; Newberg et...
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