A new study from Utah finds that religious experiences activate the part of brain associated with other pleasurable experiences.
Researchers analyzed the brains of 19 devout Mormons in their 20s and 30s. Some of the experiments included being shown passages from the Book of Mormon and videos produced by the Mormon Church and being asked to pray.
When they reported “feeling the spirit” – a Mormon phrase indicating religions joy – the brain region called the nucleus accumbens, which processes a feeling of reward, was activated. This area is associated with pleasure that comes from sex, drugs, and (rock & roll?) music. Oh, and associated with love! The greatest of these.
“We’re just beginning to understand how the brain participates in experiences that believers interpret as spiritual, divine or transcendent,” says study co-author Dr. Jeff Anderson, from the University of Utah School of Medicine. “In the last few years, brain imaging technologies have matured in ways that are letting us approach questions that have been around for millennia.”