Your brain on God: A neuroscientist explains how religious experience can be addictive

Although religious experience impacts more than 5.8 billion people worldwide, our understanding of the brain networks involved remains obscure. In a study published today in the journal Social Neuroscience, researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine report that religious and spiritual experiences activate reward circuits in the brain — the same that are associated with feelings of love and drug-induced euphoric states. Researchers used fMRI to image the brain’s electrical activity while spiritual feelings were evoked in participants inside the scanner. 19 young devout Mormons, 12 males and 7 females, who were all former full-time missionaries, were chosen because of the intensity of their routine religious experience—known as “feeling the spirit.” A key part of being Mormon involves identifying this experience in oneself and teaching this ability to…


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