Medical News Today: Religious experience activates same brain circuits as ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’

mountain with snow

Praying and taking drugs are two very different things. But a new study shows our brains may react to both in a similar way. Researchers at the University of Utah said that although 5.8 billion people worldwide are religiously affiliated, little has so far been known about how brains react to religious experience. So they designed an experiment that studied brain activity of 19 devout, young Mormons as they were performing a variety of tasks.

Key Takeaways:

  • Neuroscientists have been studying the effect religion has on our brains using neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
  • Researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine, led by Dr. Jeff Anderson, Ph.D., created an environment conducive to religious experience and examined the brains of 19 young adult Mormons using neuroimaging techniques.
  • After the neuroimaging session, each of the subjects also took part in a debriefing session where they were asked to describe and rate the quality of the religious experiences had during the brain-scanning session.

“Religious devotees reported progressive and sustained subjective experience during the scan. They identified feelings of peace and physical sensations of warmth.”