A new study has revealed that attending church programmes regularly has something in common with sex, drugs and rock and roll, because spiritual and religious practice stimulate the part of brain that is responsible for processing reward.
‘Religious Brain Project’, a research carried out recently at the University of Utah School of Medicine focused on finding out how devout Mormons’ brain reacts to spiritual feeling. A set of 19 young adults who are church members and volunteers were scanned on fMRI. They were engaged in some spiritual activities such as reading of familiar passages from The Book of Mormon, resting, watching controlled and stimulating religious video and quotations of religious leaders. During the process, the participants were asked to relate their experience on how they ‘feel the spirit’ and response as ‘not feeling’ to ‘very strong feeling’.
After the scan, the result shows that the volunteers felt peaceful and warm inside and many were overwhelmed and in tears by the outcome, especially for the ‘peak feeling’ they had when watching the church video.
The lead author, Michael Ferguson said: “When our study participants were instructed to think about a saviour, about being with their families for eternity, about their heavenly rewards, their brains and bodies physically responded.”
Using the result of fMRI scans, it shows that powerful spiritual feelings were related with activity in the area of the brain associated with processing reward.
Jeff Anderson, a senior author and neuroradiologist said: “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.”
The researchers suggest a further study to determine if others believers of other religions would feel the same way.