Study shows impact religion has on the brain

- A number of studies examine what drugs and alcohol do to the brain, but have you ever thought about what impact religion has on it?

Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, MD, Ph.D, is an associate professor of neuro-radiology at the University of Utah is conducting a research study on just that. 

"Religion is one of the most important influences on peoples behavior. What we wanted to understand is what's happening in the brain while somebody has a religious or spiritual experience," Anderson said.

To find out, he gathered a group of devout Mormons who agreed to have their brains scanned with MRI machines while they were watching videos or reading about spiritual things. They talked about feelings of peace and physical sensations of warmth. The regions of the brain that lit up were part of the reward circuit of the brain.

'We learned that there are characteristic regions of the brain that are active when somebody has a spiritual or religious experience," Anderson said.

The study shows scientific proof that something physically happens in the brain when we pray or have a spiritual experience. And that "something" makes us feel better.

"It's been hypothesized that religious experience is a reward trigger for the brain, but we weren't expecting to see it so robust," Anderson said.

FOX 46 Charlotte discussed the  findings with people of faith. Pastor Michael Carr oversees Mount Holly First United Methodist Church. He believes in body and sprit connection.

"I just think there's a lot of power in individual prayer and communal prayer," Carr said.

He says prayer can be transformative. Carr's congregation believes in the benefits of prayer on a person's overall wellness. 

While the study only looked at Mormons, researchers believe their findings would be replicated whatever religion you practice. 

 

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