Scientists at Yale Univer sity have identified a possible neurobiological home for spiritual experience - the sense of connection to something greater than oneself.
Activity in the parietal cortex, an area of the brain involved in self-awareness and attention processing, appears to be a common element among individuals who have experienced a variety of spiritual experiences, according to a study published May 29 in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex .
"Spiritual experiences are robust states that can have profound impacts on people's lives," said Marc Potenza, Yale Child Study Center professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, "Understanding the neural basis of spiritual experiences can help us better understand their roles in resilience and recovery from mental health and addictive disorders."
Spiritual experiences can be religious or non-religious in nature, such as the feeling of oneness in nature or the absence of the self during certain experiences.
Researchers from Yale and the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University interviewed 27 young adults to gather information about past experiences of stress and relaxation, as well as their spiritual experiences. The subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging scans while listening for the first time to recordings based on theirpersonalized experiences. While individual spiritual experiences differed, the researchers observed similar patterns of activity in the parietal cortex as subjects imagined, experiencing the events in the recordings.
Potenza pointed out that other areas of the brain are likely also involved in shaping spiritual experiences. The method may help future researchers study spiritual experience and its impact on mental health, he said.