Ferguson MA, Nielsen JA, King JB, Dai L, Giangrasso DM, Holman R, Korenberg JR, Anderson JS. Reward, salience, and attentional networks are activated by religious experience in devout Mormons. Soc Neurosci. 2018 Feb;13(1):104-116.
High-level cognitive and emotional experience arises from brain activity, but the specific brain substrates for religious and spiritual euphoria remain unclear. We demonstrate using functional magnetic resonance imaging scans in 19 devout Mormons that a recognizable feeling central to their devotional practice was reproducibly associated with activation in nucleus accumbens, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and frontal attentional regions. Nucleus accumbens activation preceded peak spiritual feelings by 1-3 s and was replicated in four separate tasks. Attentional activation in the anterior cingulate and frontal eye fields was greater in the right hemisphere. The association of abstract ideas and brain reward circuitry may interact with frontal attentional and emotive salience processing, suggesting a mechanism whereby doctrinal concepts may come to be intrinsically rewarding and motivate behavior in religious individuals.
Miller L, Balodis IM, McClintock CH, Xu J, Lacadie CM, Sinha R, Potenza MN. Neural Correlates of Personalized Spiritual Experiences. Cereb Cortex. 2018 May 29. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy102. [Epub ahead of print]
Courtesy of a colleague.
Across cultures and throughout history, human beings have reported a variety of spiritual experiences and the concomitant perceived sense of union that transcends one's ordinary sense of self. Nevertheless, little is known about the underlying neural mechanisms of spiritual experiences, particularly when examined across different traditions and practices. By adapting an individualized guided-imagery task, we investigated neural correlates of personally meaningful spiritual experiences as compared with stressful and neutral-relaxing experiences. We observed in the spiritual condition, as compared with the neutral-relaxing condition, reduced activity in the left inferior parietal lobule (IPL), a result that suggests the IPL may contribute importantly to perceptual processing and self-other representations during spiritual experiences. Compared with stress cues, responses to spiritual cues showed reduced activity in the medial thalamus and caudate, regions associated with sensory and emotional processing. Overall, the study introduces a novel method for investigating brain correlates of personally meaningful spiritual experiences and suggests neural mechanisms associated with broadly defined and personally experienced spirituality.
Yale scientists have identified a possible neurobiological home for the spiritual experience -- the sense of connection to something greater than oneself.
Activity in the parietal cortex, an area of the brain involved in awareness of self and others as well as attention processing, seems to be a common element among individuals who have experienced a variety of spiritual experiences, according to a study published online May 29 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.
"Spiritual experiences are robust states that may have profound impacts on people's lives," said Marc Potenza, professor of psychiatry, of the Yale Child Study Center, and of neuroscience. "Understanding the neural bases of spiritual experiences may help us better understand their roles in resilience and recovery from mental health and addictive disorders."
Spiritual experiences can be religious in nature or not, such as feeling of oneness in nature or the absence of self during sporting events. Researchers at Yale and the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University interviewed 27 young adults to gather information about past stressful and relaxing experiences as well as their spiritual experiences. The subjects then underwent fMRI scans while listening for the first time to recordings based on their personalized experiences. While individual spiritual experiences differed, researchers noted similar patterns of activity in the parietal cortex as the subjects imagined experiencing the events in the recordings.
Potenza stressed other brain areas are probably also involved in formation of spiritual experiences. The method can help future researchers study spiritual experience and its impact on mental health, he said.
Courtesy of a colleague.