Where the brain processes spiritual experiences

June 4, 2018 by Bill Hathaway, Yale University
Credit: Michael S. Helfenbein

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 , 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 ."

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 as the subjects imagined experiencing the events in the recordings.

Potenza stressed other brain areas are probably also involved in formation of . The method can help future researchers study spiritual experience and its impact on , he said.

Explore further: Distinct 'God spot' in the brain does not exist

More information: Lisa Miller et al. Neural Correlates of Personalized Spiritual Experiences, Cerebral Cortex (2018). DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhy102

Related Stories

Distinct 'God spot' in the brain does not exist

April 19, 2012
Scientists have speculated that the human brain features a "God spot," one distinct area of the brain responsible for spirituality. Now, University of Missouri researchers have completed research that indicates spirituality ...

When performers are in the zone, it's spiritual, researcher finds

March 14, 2016
Prima ballerinas Anna Pavlova and Margot Fonteyn reported entering altered states of consciousness and having "spiritual" experiences during performance, a University of Queensland researcher says.

Researchers find neurological link between religious experiences and epilepsy

March 8, 2017
A relationship between epilepsy and heightened religious experiences has been recognized since at least the 19th century. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Missouri found a neurological relationship exists ...

New Religious Brain Project seeks to uncover brain activation during religious and spiritual experiences

February 7, 2014
A group of researchers at the University of Utah has launched a new project aimed at understanding how the brain operates in people with deep spiritual and religious beliefs.

Spiritual retreats change feel-good chemical systems in the brain

March 23, 2017
More Americans than ever are turning to spiritual, meditative and religious retreats as a way to reset their daily life and enhance wellbeing. Now, researchers at The Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson ...

Recommended for you

Gut microbes may contribute to depression and anxiety in obesity

June 18, 2018
Like everyone, people with type 2 diabetes and obesity suffer from depression and anxiety, but even more so. Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center now have demonstrated a surprising potential contributor to these negative ...

Childhood sibling dynamics may predict differences in college education

June 18, 2018
The effects of sibling relationships may go beyond childhood bickering and bonding, according to Penn State researchers who found that these relationships may predict similarities and differences in siblings' education later ...

Success is not just how you play your cards, but how you play your opponents

June 15, 2018
In high-stakes environments, success is not just about playing your cards right, but also playing your opponents right.

Poker has a 'tell' about strategic thinkers

June 15, 2018
In competitive environments, success is not just about playing your cards right, but also playing your opponents right.

Risk of burnout can be estimated by analysing saliva samples

June 15, 2018
According to calculations from the World Health Organisation, depression occupies first place in the global "disease burden" and, by 2030, experts estimate that there will be three mental illnesses in the Top 5: depression, ...

Religious affiliation linked to nearly 4-year longevity boost

June 14, 2018
A new nationwide study of obituaries has found that people with religious affiliations lived nearly four years longer than those with no ties to religion.

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

VaheO
not rated yet Jun 05, 2018
I had a spiritual experience where I was awakened around 3:30 am, heard voices for me to take a shower so that the water would act as a conduit. As soon as my forehead had water impact, I saw prism colors entering through my right parietal lobe at a 45 degree angle, and felt my brain shift and then fuse and then getting data that did not make sense. I was very much worried but informed through voices that I should not be afraid of the event. I made a video about my experiences but can't post because of the spam filter.
Soundgardener
not rated yet Jun 05, 2018
@VaheO: Ignore the nocturnal voices and their sibilant exhortations; excessive showering is detrimental to the epidermis, to say nothing of carbon footprint(s)

NB: Daytime shower-urgings are a different matter entirely; pay much—if not more—heed, to those.
NoStrings
not rated yet Jun 05, 2018
Well said: "study spiritual experience and its impact on mental health". If you have spiritual experiences, it is likely a mental health issue.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.