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Can Belief in God Improve Your Brain Health?

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For generations, people have always had a general sense that belief in God could somehow have a positive impact on one’s health, but now there is scientific evidence to support that.

Can Science Find Harmony with Spirituality?

Scientists at Yale and Columbia Universities, working at the crossroads of spirituality and science, most recently discovered the place in the brain that processes spiritual experiences—the parietal cortex. And this finding, they say, has only just scratched the surface on this topic.

In a study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, Yale and Columbia scientists found that activity in the parietal cortex is responsible for giving people a sense of connection to something greater than themselves, in addition to being the area responsible for attention processing and awareness of self and others.

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“Spiritual experiences are robust states that may have profound impacts on people’s lives,” neuroscientist Marc Potenza, professor of psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center said in a news release about the study.He goes on to explain that “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 at Yale and the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University interviewed 27 young adults to gather information about certain experiences, spiritual and otherwise.

The scientists then created a personalized recording for each participant, designed specifically to elicit spiritual feelings within them. Participants listened to their recordings while undergoing a functional MRI (fMRI) to measure blood flow in the brain. Results of the study showed that as the participants imagined experiencing the events in their individualized spiritual recordings, they registered increased activity in their parietal cortexes, and reduced activity in the left inferior parietal lobule.

According to Potenza, other areas of the brain are also likely involved in the formation of spiritual experiences, and the method used in this study can help guide future studies.

Religious Experiences Activate the “Reward” Center of the Brain

An article published over on Medical News Today, titled “What religion does to your brain,” says the relatively new scientific area of neurotheology—or the study of the neuroscience of theological belief—has made some surprising recent discoveries that show religious beliefs and activities can help a person live a longer, healthier life.

Interestingly, a University of Utah study published in the journal Social Neuroscience found that spiritually-driven experiences can activate the same “reward” circuits of the brain as those triggered by sex, drugs, gambling or music.

“When our study participants were instructed to think about a savior, about being with their families for eternity, about their heavenly rewards, their brains and bodies physically responded,” says study author Michael Ferguson in a press statement. “These findings echo those of older studies, which found that engaging spiritual practices raises levels of serotonin, which is the “happiness” neurotransmitter, and endorphins.”

Another study, this one published in the journal PLOS One, found that attending church could help a person live longer, however finding “religion” to be “very important” (rather than spirituality or seeking a connection with God) was found to shorten lifespan.

“After adjustment for confounders, attendance at religious services had a dose-response relationship with mortality, such that respondents who attended frequently [i.e., at least once a week] had a 40 [percent] lower hazard of mortality […] compared with those who never attended,” wrote researcher Ellen L. Idler, Ph.D., a joint-appointed professor in epidemiology from the Emory Rollins School of Public Health and Samuel Candler Dobbs professor of sociology.

 

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