Study: Religious thoughts trigger same reward systems as love, drugs, music and sex

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Study: Religious thoughts trigger same reward systems as love, drugs, music and sex

Postby I'm your fan » Wed Dec 14, 2016 3:58 pm

This notice was published in the Spanish section of The Huffington Post ( ... 18918.html); here is my English translation of the notice.

Spiritual or religious experiences activate the reward system of the brain, the same area that reacts to stimuli such as food, sex or music, according to a scientific study released Tuesday.

The work corresponds to a team of scientists from Utah State University who sought to determine which networks of the brain are activated before religious feelings, particularly among Mormons, a community with a strong influence in that state of the USA.

The results, published in the journal Social Neuroscience, show that these experiences are also associated with the medial prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that is activated with tasks that involve a moral judgment, as it regulates social behavior.

To carry out this research, the scientists studied a group of 19 people who performed tasks involving spiritual feelings, such as reading fragments from The Book of Mormon, canonical work of this religious community.

"Participants had a button on their chest that they had to press when they experienced a religious feeling," said Michael Ferguson, a University of Utah researcher who participated in this study.

"We wondered if they could experience them, because being inside a machine is not the same as being in a cathedral or in a cute environment. We were very moved when we saw that they could," he added.

Through magnetic resonance imaging, experts were able to observe that the most powerful religious feelings activated the nucleus accumbens of the brain, a group of neurons associated with experiencing pleasure and reward.

"It also triggered the medial prefrontal cortex, which indicates that there are many intense conceptual thoughts, in addition to the emotional component, in their religious experience," said the researcher.

For Utah scientists, it is important to know how the brain works with spiritual stimuli, because religion has a very strong presence in the state and nearly 60% of the population is a member of the Mormon community.

For Ferguson, one of the "most exciting" questions left by the outcome of this study has to do with how people have become religious and have associated certain symbols with rewards or with positive emotions.

This study is the first of a series called Religious Brain Project, launched in 2014 by the University of Utah, which aims to understand how the brain works in people who have deep religious beliefs.

Although the researcher recognizes that "there are various kinds of spiritual experiences" and that "it is difficult to compare them", he asserts that there are ways in which this can be achieved.

"The ideal would be to repeat a similar study in a Catholic population, a Muslim and see if the same system is activated in different groups," he added.

You can find that here, too, in English: ... ds-church/

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