Neuroscience and the soul: Competing explanations for the human experience

Jesse Lee Preston, Ryan S. Ritter, Justin Hepler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The development of fMRI techniques has generated a boom of neuroscience research across the psychological sciences, and revealed neural correlates for many psychological phenomena seen as central to the human experience (e.g., morality, agency). Meanwhile, the rise of neuroscience has reignited old debates over mind-body dualism and the soul. While some scientists use neuroscience to bolster a material account of consciousness, others point to unexplained neural phenomena to defend dualism and a spiritual perspective on the mind. In two experiments we examine how exposure to neuroscience research impacts belief in the soul. We find that belief in soul decreases when neuroscience provides strong mechanistic explanations for mind. But when explanatory gaps in neuroscience research are emphasized, belief in soul is enhanced, suggesting that physical and metaphysical explanations may be used reflexively as alternative theories for mind. Implications for the future of belief in soul and neuroscience research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-37
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2013


  • Consciousness
  • Explanatory gap
  • Mind-body dualism
  • Neuroscience
  • Soul

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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