Religious and spiritual experiences activate the reward center (pleasure) of the brain, as well as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, according to researchers at the School of Medicine, University of Utah. The results are published in the November 29 «Social Neuroscience» Journal.
"We are only beginning to understand how the brain interprets the spiritual, divine or transcendent", - says senior author and neuroradiologist Jeff Anderson, MD, PhD.
The researchers set out to determine which brain network involved in the representation of the spiritual sense the example of Mormon by creating an environment that caused the participants' sense of the divine spirit. " During the MRI scan 19 adults performed the tasks to trigger religious feelings. All exam included six minutes of rest, six-minute audio-visual control, eight minutes of spiritual sayings Mormons and religious leaders of the world, reading religious books, a 12-minute audio-visual stimuli. Participants showed quotes and ask questions about whether they feel the presence of spirits.
The researchers collected detailed assessment of feelings of participants who reported about the kinds of sensations characteristic of intensive worship. They described the calm and sensible heat. Many had tears in their eyes at the end of the scan. In one experiment, participants pressed the button when they felt the peak of spiritual feelings.
"When the participants talked to think of the Savior, families and eternity, the brain and the body responded physically," - says author Michael Ferguson, Ph.D., who led the study.
Based on the MRI scans, researchers found that a strong spiritual feelings associated with the activation of pleasure centers in the brain. Once the participants have experienced peak sense, their hearts beat faster, and breathing became deeper.
In addition, the researchers found that spiritual feelings associated with the medial prefrontal cortex, which is a complex area of the brain, activating the tasks related to the evaluation, judgment and moral principles. Also activates areas of the brain associated with attention.
"Religious experience - an important part of how people make decisions. The brain reacts differently to the meditative and contemplative practices that are typical of some Eastern religions, and so far little is known about the neurobiology of Western spiritual practices "- say researchers.
This study - the first initiative of the "Religious brain", started by a group of researchers at the University of Utah in 2014, whose purpose - to understand how the brain works in people with spiritual and religious beliefs.