No 'God Spot' In Brain
- No 'God Spot' In Brain, Spirituality Linked
To Right Parietal Lobe
Scientists have speculated that the human brain
features a "God spot," one distinct area of the
brain responsible for spirituality. Now, University
of Missouri researchers have completed research
that indicates spirituality is a complex phenomenon,
and multiple areas of the brain are responsible for
the many aspects of spiritual experiences.
"We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality,
but it's not isolated to one specific area of the brain,"
said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in
the School of Health Professions. "Spirituality is a
much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the
brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals' spiritual experiences."
In the most recent study, Johnstone studied 20 people
with traumatic brain injuries affecting the right parietal
lobe, the area of the brain situated a few inches above
the right ear. He surveyed participants on characteristics of spirituality, such as how close they felt to a higher
power and if they felt their lives were part of a divine
plan. He found that the participants with more significant
injury to their right parietal lobe showed an increased
feeling of closeness to a higher power.
"Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that
impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one's
focus on the self," Johnstone said. "Since our research
shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual,
this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a
decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many
religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on
the well-being of others rather than on themselves."
Johnstone says the right side of the brain is associated
with self-orientation, whereas the left side is associated
with how individuals relate to others. Although Johnstone
studied people with brain injury, previous studies of Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns with normal brain function
have shown that people can learn to minimize the functioning
of the right side of their brains to increase their spiritual connections during meditation and prayer.
Johnstone makes the comparison to other kinds of disciplines;
"It is like playing the piano, the more you train your brain,
the more the brain becomes predisposed to piano playing.
Practice makes perfect."
While researchers have been focused on finding a 'God spot'
in the brain, the new research suggests that it might be
better to focus on the neuropsychological questions of self
focus vs selfless focus. As Prof. Johnstone explains: "when
the brain focuses less on the the self (by decreased activity
in the right lobe) it is by definition a moment of
self-transcendence and can be understood as being connected
to God or Nirvana. It is the sensation of feeling like you
are part of a bigger thing."
The research does not make claims about spiritual truths but demonstrates the way that the brain allows for different
kinds of spiritual experiences that Christians might name
God, Buddhists it could be Nirvana, and for atheists it might
be the feeling of being connected to the earth.
On the other end of the spectrum, Professor Johnstone admits
that for him it is the music of Led Zeppelin that helps him
transcend himself: "When I put on my headphones and listen
to "Stairway to Heaven" I just get lost."
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