Tags: religious | spiritual | experiences | activate | brain | reward

Religious Experiences Activate Brain Reward Circuits

Religious Experiences Activate Brain Reward Circuits

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Tuesday, 29 November 2016 01:49 PM


Although religion generally preaches against gambling and drugs, they all have something in common. Religion and spiritual experiences as well as gambling, drugs, love, sex, and music, all activate the brain reward circuits in similar ways, according a study published in the journal Social Neuroscience.


"We're just beginning to understand how the brain participates in experiences that believers interpret as spiritual, divine or transcendent," says senior author and neuroradiologist Dr. Jeff Anderson.


"In the last few years, brain imaging technologies have matured in ways that are letting us approach questions that have been around for millennia," he said.


Researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine subjected young Mormon adults to fMRI scans in an effort to determine which brain networks are involved in spiritual feelings by creating an environment that triggered participants to "feel the spirit."


While undergoing the scans, the participants, who were all former missionaries, performed assignments that included resting as well as listening to quotations by Mormon leaders and watching inspiring religious videos.


During the initial quotations portion of the exam, they were shown a series of quotes, each followed by the question, "Are you feeling the spirit?" Participants responded with answers ranging from "not feeling" to "very strongly feeling."


They found that religious feelings stimulated the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain associated with reward and is known to be a factor in addiction.


Previous studies found that the nucleus accumbens was also activated by taking drugs that cause euphoria and by participating in rewarding experiences such as sex, exercise, and music.


In addition to the brain's reward circuits, the researchers found that spiritual feelings were associated with the medial prefrontal cortex, which is a complex brain region that is activated by tasks involving valuation, judgment and moral reasoning. Spiritual feelings also activated brain regions associated with focused attention.


"Religious experience is perhaps the most influential part of how people make decisions that affect all of us, for good and for ill. Understanding what happens in the brain to contribute to those decisions is really important," says Anderson.

 

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Although religion generally preaches against gambling and drugs, they all have something in common. Religion and spiritual experiencesas well as gambling, drugs, love, sex, and music, all activate the brain reward circuits in similar ways, according a study published in the...
religious, spiritual, experiences, activate, brain, reward
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2016-49-29
Tuesday, 29 November 2016 01:49 PM
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