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Spiritual Center of the Brain Discovered

Anyone who has heard me lecture or conduct training on neuroscience will know that I have always emphasized a little regarded region of the brain called the Parietal

Cortex Located just behind the lobes in our foreheads, I have explained how this region can over rule our emotional brain systems. As such, it can play a vital role in recovery from both addictions and mental health. This is the location of not only our values, but our "sacred values." When activated we can make immense sacrifices that do not even feel like sacrifices. I have also suggested it plays a more critical role in psychopathic dispositions than is currently recognized. A recent study has emphasized its critical role in sacred values.

Yale scientists have identified a possible neurobiological home for the spiritual experience -- the sense of connection to something greater than oneself. Activity in the parietal cortex, an area of the brain involved in awareness of self and others as well as attention processing, seems to be a common element among individuals who have experienced a variety of spiritual experiences, according to a study published online May 29 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

"Spiritual experiences are robust states that may have profound impacts on people's lives," said Marc Potenza, professor of psychiatry, of the Yale Child Study Center, and of neuroscience. "Understanding the neural bases of spiritual experiences may help us better understand their roles in resilience and recovery from mental health and addictive disorders."

Spiritual experiences can be religious in nature or not, such as feeling of oneness in nature or the absence of self during sporting events. Researchers at Yale and the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University interviewed 27 young adults to gather information about past stressful and relaxing experiences as well as their spiritual experiences. The subjects then underwent fMRI scans while listening for the first time to recordings based on their personalized experiences. While individual spiritual experiences differed, researchers noted similar patterns of activity in the parietal cortex as the subjects imagined experiencing the events in the recordings.

Potenza stressed other brain areas are probably also involved in formation of spiritual experiences. The method can help future researchers study spiritual experience and its impact on mental health, he said.

Materials provided by Yale University.

Journal Reference:

Lisa Miller, Iris M Balodis, Clayton H McClintock, Jiansong Xu, Cheryl M Lacadie, Rajita Sinha, Marc N Potenza. Neural Correlates of Personalized Spiritual Experiences. Cerebral Cortex, 2018; DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhy102

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