How the brain processes spiritual experiences

written by Meena Azzollini

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So far it’s unclear how the brain processes spiritual experiences. Yet throughout history and across all cultures, people have reported having many spiritual experiences. It is perceived as a sense of union that transcends one’s sense of self.

Spiritual experiences can be religious or not, such as the feeling of oneness when you are with nature or the absence of sense when you are participating in a sporting event. But very little is known about the neural pathways of spiritual experiences, as well as their impact on mental health.

The researchers found that while individual spiritual experiences differed, there were similar patterns of activity in the parietal cortex.

That is why researchers from Yale University and the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University interviewed 27 young adults to collect information about past stressful and relaxing experiences as well as their spiritual experiences.

The participants underwent fMRI scans while they listened to recordings based on their personalised experiences. They listened to these recordings for the first time. The researchers found that while individual spiritual experiences differed, there were similar patterns of activity in the parietal cortex as the participants imagined experiencing the events in the recordings. The parietal cortex is an area of the brain involved in awareness of self and others as well as attention processing.

Compared with stress cues, responses to spiritual cues showed reduced activity in the medial thalamus and caudate which are regions of the brain associated with sensory and emotional processing. According to the scientists, other brain areas are probably also involved in the formation of spiritual experiences.

Spiritual experiences can have a profound effect on your life. Understanding the neural mechanisms that take place during these experiences can help scientists understand the role of these experiences in resilience and recovery from mental health and addictive disorders. The researchers believe that this novel method for investigating the link between brain activity and meaningful spiritual experiences can help future scientists study the impact of spiritual experiences on mental health.

Source: Cerebral Cortex


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Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!