Prayer is an essential component in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as it is in many other faith systems. But -- what does the act of prayer mean for those who engage in it? How does the human brain react to the practice? Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of research at Myrna Bring Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Medical College, has set out to answer these very questions.
Newberg has studied faith and religion for decades, specifically where these tenets intersect with neuroscience. In a recent study, the doctor injected subjects with a harmless radioactive dye. Then, while they engaged in prayer or meditation, he monitored their brain activity to see how the religious act impacted them. According to The Huffington Post, after being injected, the dye goes to the part of the brain where blood flow is strongest (i.e. the most active part of the brain).
This is a scan showing the brain before prayer and during intense prayer. (Photo Credit: Science)
In a report that recently aired on Science's network's "Through the Wormhole," Newberg explained the study and how prayer appears to impact the human brain. In the clip, a Presbyterian minister was deep in prayerful worship, as the researcher monitored her to observe the impact. Interestingly, the scans showed that the frontal lobes and the language area of the brain experienced noticeably-increased activity.
This is noteworthy for a number of reasons. Consider that many evangelical Christians describe their prayer experience as a personal relationship in which they speak directly with God. Many times, a comparison is made between the faithful's relationship with the Almighty and friendships that people have with one another. In this sense, God is viewed as a friend who is willing to listen -- and to speak back -- to those who pray.
This is a scan showing an atheist's brain before and contemplating God. Notice, there is no change in brain activity in the frontal lobes and language center. (Photo Credit: Science)
This description of prayer is important, seeing as the frontal lobes and language portions of the brain activate during conversation. As a result, Newberg believes that the brain reacts during Judeo-Christian prayer in the same way that it does when someone is talking to a friend, co-worker, etc.
"To the brain, talking to God is indistinguishable to talking to a person," narrator Morgan Freeman proclaimed.
Watch Newberg describe his research, below:
"They are really having this kind of experience," Newberg said of the faithful and prayer. "The experience is, at least, neurotically real."
Interestingly, though, while atheists and non-believers spend time meditating or contemplating God's existence, no impact on the brain is observed in the frontal lobe.
(H/T: Huffington Post)
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