Scientists research effect of religion on brain

Scientists have been able to pinpoint precisely the area of the brain which is stimulated by religious thought.

Of course, you know you are on dangerous ground when trying to prove the existence of the big beardy, floaty man in the sky by shoving people in an MRI scanner.

But by scanning the brains of praying nuns, chanting Sikhs and meditating Buddhists Dr Andrew Newberg has shown a connection between the brain and religious experiences.

It is a field that has been dubbed neurotheology, which Newberg claims in his book Principles of Neurotheology can open a dialogue between scientific and theological notions.

The team would evaluate what’s happening in people’s brains when they are in a deep spiritual practice like meditation or prayer, Newberg told NPR, before he and his team  compared this evaluation with the subjects in a state of rest.

“This has really given us a remarkable window into what it means for people to be religious or spiritual or to do these kinds of practices,” said Newberg, the director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia.

Newberg believes that religious practices can even help shape a person’s brain who would not usually take part in any religious practices.  He claims that by taking scans of subject’s brains before teaching them a mantra based meditation method, which they would repeat for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks, drastic results could be seen upon re-scanning.

The results showed an increase of activity in the frontal lobe, the area responsible for focusing attention and concentration, with subjects able to exhibit 10 to 15 percent increase in certain abilities such as memory.

“For those individuals who want to go down the path of arguing that all of our religious and spiritual experiences are nothing more than biological phenomena, some of this data does support that kind of a conclusion,” said Newberg. “But the data also does not specifically eliminate the notion that there is a religious or spiritual or divine presence in the world.”