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Cereb Cortex. 2019 Jun 1;29(6):2331-2338. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy102.

Neural Correlates of Personalized Spiritual Experiences.

Author information

1
Spirituality Mind Body Institute, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
2
Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.
3
Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
4
Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.
5
Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.
6
Department of Neuroscience, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.
7
Connecticut Mental Health Center, New Haven, CT, USA.

Abstract

Across cultures and throughout history, human beings have reported a variety of spiritual experiences and the concomitant perceived sense of union that transcends one's ordinary sense of self. Nevertheless, little is known about the underlying neural mechanisms of spiritual experiences, particularly when examined across different traditions and practices. By adapting an individualized guided-imagery task, we investigated neural correlates of personally meaningful spiritual experiences as compared with stressful and neutral-relaxing experiences. We observed in the spiritual condition, as compared with the neutral-relaxing condition, reduced activity in the left inferior parietal lobule (IPL), a result that suggests the IPL may contribute importantly to perceptual processing and self-other representations during spiritual experiences. Compared with stress cues, responses to spiritual cues showed reduced activity in the medial thalamus and caudate, regions associated with sensory and emotional processing. Overall, the study introduces a novel method for investigating brain correlates of personally meaningful spiritual experiences and suggests neural mechanisms associated with broadly defined and personally experienced spirituality.

KEYWORDS:

functional magnetic resonance imaging; perception; spirituality; stress

PMID:
29846531
PMCID:
PMC6519691
[Available on 2020-06-01]
DOI:
10.1093/cercor/bhy102

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