What happens in the brain during a spiritual experience?

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Islamabad: The question as to what happens in the brain when we have a spiritual experience has been explored numerous times, with varying results, and it continues to fascinate researchers and non-specialists alike.

A new study aims to reveal more. What does spiritual experience do to the human brain? A recent study claims to hold the answer.

For decades, researchers who are intrigued by the importance of spirituality in people’s lives have conducted studies investigating what happens in the human brain when people feel deeply spiritually connected.

Due to the fact that the concept of “spirituality” can be understood in so many different ways across cultures and individuals — and that whatever someone may term a “spiritual experience” can stimulate the brain in very complex ways — it has been hard to pinpoint a brain mechanism for spirituality.Nevertheless, researchers have persevered despite the challenges.

So, studies on Carmelite nuns and dedicated Mormon practitioners have suggested that multiple brain regions are involved in processing experiences of union with a higher being.

Also, a commonality suggested by a few studies was that individuals engaging in long-term spiritual practice had decreased activity in the right parietal lobe, which has been tied to self-oriented focus.

In other words, spiritual experiences seemed to increase, as it were, selflessness in the brain.Spirituality against depression?Prof.

Lisa Miller, the editor of the Oxford University Press Handbook of Psychology & Spirituality, has conducted a series of studies on what happens in, or to, the brains of people with intense spiritual lives.

Her research has indicated that people with habitual spiritual practices show cortical thickening in the prefrontal cortex.

Intriguingly, she says that individuals who live with chronic depression experience cortical thinning in the same brain region.This has led her to argue that spirituality and depression are likely “two sides of the same coin.”

 

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