Even If You’re Not Religious, There’s a Spiritual Part of Your Brain You Probably Never Knew Existed

Findings from a new study from Yale and Columbia could play a significant role in improving mental health treatment.

Blend Images - Dave and Les Jacobs/ Getty Images
Blend Images - Dave and Les Jacobs/ Getty Images

A new study from Yale and Columbia suggests that the brain has a “neurobiological home” for spirituality, disproving the idea that spirituality is strictly grounded in external cultures.

The study, published in Cerebral Cortex, gathered 27 subjects — all with diverse religious and cultural backgrounds – and scanned their brain activity as they reflected on past spiritual experiences. The scientists found a consistent pattern that was repeatedly activated in the subjects’ parietal cortex, which is the part of your brain that processes sensation and attention.

The findings can help us understand our own behaviors and tendencies. “Spiritual experiences are robust states that may have profound impacts on people’s lives,” said Yale psychiatry and neuroscience professor Marc Potenza. “Understanding the neural bases of spiritual experiences may help us better understand their roles in resilience and recovery from mental health and addictive disorders.”

In fact, whether the subjects reported a past spiritual experience in church or at a stadium of football fans, the varied transcendent states all had the same effect on their brains. The results were parallel to the effects found in the brains of Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns in previous studies.

Apart from its potential to improve mental health treatment in the future, this data can also help us understand our universal quest for meaning. It also suggests that that the cultivation of these spiritual experiences – no matter how simple or complex – can allow us to lead lives that are more insightful, impactful, and worthwhile.

Read more about the study here.

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