Use MRI for: Imagining God?

A recent fMRI neuroimaging study from the University of Chicago asks a fascinating question:

“Religion appears to serve as a moral compass for the vast majority of people around the world. It informs whether same-sex marriage is love or sin, whether war is an act of security or of terror, and whether abortion rights represent personal liberty or permission to murder. Many religions are centered on a god (or gods) that has beliefs and intentions, with adherents encouraged to follow “God’s will” on everything from martyrdom to career planning to voting. Within these religious systems, how do people know what their god wills?”

Using fMRI, they saw that the same areas of the brain were used to reason about one’s own beliefs and God’s beliefs, but different regions of the brain were used when reasoning about another person’s beliefs. In particular, reasoning about God’s beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person’s beliefs.

In other words, if you believe in God, you’re probably subconsiously endowing God with your beliefs (at least on controversial issues*), and not the other way around.

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Use MRI for: Politics

Neuromarketing is the application of neuroimaging methods to product marketing, to more effectively “match products with people”. Companies can incorporate use of fMRI in the design process of a product, as well as in assessing the effectiveness of an advertising campaign.

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Use MRI for: Love and Limerence

LOVE, n.

LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder.
[Ambrose Bierce, 1911]

Limerence describes an involuntary cognitive and emotional state of intense romantic desire for another person—in other words, romantic love. Researchers in New York have shown, using functional MRI, that in some human individuals being “in love” with a long-term partner is similar to early-stage romantic love. But perhaps not in the way you might think.

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Use MRI for: Higher IQ

In 1836, Frederick Tiedmann wrote that there exists

“an indisputable connection between the size of the brain and the mental energy displayed by the individual man.”
(Hamilton JA 1935. The association between brain size and maze ability in the white rat. Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.)

Brain volumes can be measured accurately with MRI, and using MRI, research has shown that intelligence and brain volume are meaningfully related. The correlation is higher in adult women. Another study in elderly men showed that fluid intelligence, premorbid intelligence, and visuospatial memory are affected, but not verbal memory and verbal fluency.

It’s OK to be big-headed after all…

Use MRI for: Bees

Apparently, in neurobiology, honeybees are a common model system for analysing underlying neural mechanisms. Furthermore, by investigating the bee brain’s anatomy, correlations between anatomy and function can be studied. MRI allows access to the brain structure without chopping the bee’s head up.

See a bee-brain at the Journal of Insect Science. The in-plane resolution of images reported is about 16μm x 16μm.