No single ‘God spot’ in human brain

U. MISSOURI (US) — New research challenges the idea that the human brain has a “God spot,” a distinct area responsible for spirituality.

Work by University of Missouri researchers indicates spirituality is a complex phenomenon, and multiple areas of the brain are responsible for the many aspects of spiritual experiences.

Based on a previously published study that indicated spiritual transcendence is associated with decreased right parietal lobe functioning, the team replicated their findings.

In addition, the researchers determined that other aspects of spiritual functioning are related to increased activity in the frontal lobe. The findings are reported in the International Journal of the Psychology of Religion.

“We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” says Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology.

“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 says. “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.

In addition, Johnstone measured the frequency of participants’ religious practices, such as how often they attended church or listened to religious programs. He measured activity in the frontal lobe and found a correlation between increased activity in this part of the brain and increased participation in religious practices.

“This finding indicates that spiritual experiences are likely associated with different parts of the brain,” Johnstone says.

More news from the University of Missouri: http://munews.missouri.edu/index.php

chat2 Comments


  1. Metta Bhavana

    This research helps confirm my own empirical experience. Meditating following Theravada Buddhist mindfulness techniques, I found it very difficult at first to “access” the left side of the brain. It took considerable effort to place and hold my attention on that hemisphere. What made it possible eventually was not by expanding “spiritual” thought, but logical thought, that is to say an increase in numerical one plus one focus, thinking in terms of structures and connections, something as a creative person, I had otherwise neglected. Put simply I found the left side prone to jumping to intuitive speculative conclusions. These could be wrong, or could include unrealistic fears and worries. The right side took more time to process input and needed constant information in order to “respond.” But the results were more reliable and less prone to miscalculations and stressful conclusions. Rather than becoming more “spiritual,” whatever that may mean, I found this right brain approach led to a sense of increased patience, acceptance and equanimity. This may explain the willingness to participate and cooperate socially in calm, considered and meditative ways, reported above as somehow connected to “religious” practice. The researchers may be mistaking this self-contained, entirely autonomous awareness, part of our evolutionary inheritance, for being somehow connected to something “out there.” Self-directed, cognitive explorations such as those reported in this research are entirely human in origin, noble perhaps, in effect, but not divinely inspired, unless meant metaphorically.

  2. Michael Shand

    good article, Great Comment from Metta Bhavana. I fear too many uneducated people will take this the wrong way, as in to say “See, they can prove pray/meditation/yoga works” or “Religious people are more generous/kind”…..we have all known for a long time that yoga works…that meditation gives obvious testable physical and pyshcological benefits and that pray, spending time with your thoughts, thinking positively, explicitly stating your plans or desires outloud help them to become a reality.

    its all pretty much commmon sense, cant wait to see more research on this

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