While scientists have speculated that the human brain features a “God spot,” a distinct area of the brain responsible for spirituality, researchers at the University of Missouri say spirituality is a more complex phenomenon, with multiple areas of the brain contributing to spiritual experiences.
“We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Dr. Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the university’s School of Health Professions.
“Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.”
In a recent study, Johnstone surveyed 20 people with traumatic brain injuries affecting the right parietal lobe, asking them how close they felt to a higher power and if they felt their lives were part of a divine plan. He found that the people with more significant injuries to their right parietal lobe showed an increased feeling of closeness to a higher power.
“Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self,” Johnstone said. “Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on the well-being of others rather than on themselves.”
Although he studied people with brain injuries, Johnstone said previous studies of Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns with normal brain function have shown that people can learn to minimize the functioning of the right side of their brains to increase their spiritual connections during meditation and prayer.
Johnstone also measured the frequency of participants’ religious practices, such as how often they attended church or listened to religious programs. He measured activity in the frontal lobe and found a correlation between increased activity in this part of the brain and increased participation in religious practices.
“This finding indicates that spiritual experiences are likely associated with different parts of the brain,” he said.
The study is published in the International Journal of the Psychology of Religion.
Source: University of Missouri