Spirituality Finally Seeks a Scientific Base!

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such as regulating heart rate. It is also commonly involved in

‘Spirituality and religiosity could now be mapped to specific brain circuits around a brainstem area called the periaqueductal gray (PAG) through the use of novel technology and the human connectome (a map of neural connections).


“Patients routinely report that spiritual and religious experiences are among their most meaningful life events. Yet medical science historically has been shy about empirically studying the impacts of spirituality or its physiological mechanisms. Now, we’re at a moment of sufficient cultural openness in science coupled with threshold technological proficiency in brain mapping that we don’t need to be so shy anymore about examining spirituality using our best scientific methods,” says lead author of the study, Michael Ferguson, Ph.D., an investigator in the Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.

Spirituality and Brain Circuits

Previous studies demonstrate that religious experiences are the product of dynamic activity across multiple brain regions and there is not a result of one particular brain region – that there is no so-called “god spot”.

Hence to map these circuits the study team examined previously collected data about self-reported spirituality from 88 patients before and after undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. The lesion network mapping technique was used to analyze how the site of each patient’s lesion, or tumor, interacts with the rest of the brain using a connectome dataset.

It was found that the PAG acts as a critical hub to changes in spiritual identification. The study was also validated from 105 veterans’ data of the Vietnam War who experienced head trauma.

“The fact that our results in this study point to such an evolutionarily ancient brainstem structure to define a circuit for spirituality is potentially significant for a litany of reasons. Among the more immediately material reasons is that the [PAG] is well-known to mediate pain inhibition. This leads to curiosity about ways that spirituality might be clinically relevant for helping manage physical and emotional pain. The fact that the [PAG] is also involved in attachment and bonding may also hint at mechanistic explanations for the emerging observation that spirituality can be effectively integrated into psychotherapy. These are of course early speculations about possible clinical relevance for the neuroscience of spirituality; the fact, though, that there is so much more work to do in this area is exhilarating and motivating!” says Dr. Ferguson.

Source: Medindia



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