Lots of people say that at some point during their lives they have had a spiritual experience. These are moments when they feel a greater sense of meaningfulness, peacefulness, or connection with the world around them.
Have you ever wondered what happens in the brain during these moments?
Now, a team of researchers from Yale University has identified a possible neurobiological home that appears to be involved in experiences that go beyond our ordinary state of being.
“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 addictive disorders.”
For the study, researchers interviewed 27 healthy young people to collect information regarding relaxing experiences as well as their spiritual experiences. One week later, scientists used functional MRI for recording the subjects’ neural activity as they pictured an intense spiritual experience.
In the study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, the researchers said, “We observed in the spiritual condition, as compared with the neutral-relaxing condition, reduced activity in the left inferior parietal lobule, a result that suggests the IPL may contribute importantly to perceptual processing and self-other representations during spiritual experiences.”
By improving “our empirical understanding of how spiritual experiences are mediated by the brain,” the researchers write, we will be able to help “facilitate the judicious integration of spirituality into treatment and prevention in areas of mental health conditions”.