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Researchers Embark on Quest to Reveal How Religion and Prayer Impact the Human Brain


"...the neuroscience of spirituality and religion is almost completely unknown."

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Researchers at the University of Utah are on a mission to better understand "how religious experience shapes the brain," so they've launched the Religious Brain Project, an initiative that is part of the university's Brain Network Lab.

Neuroradiology Professor Jeffrey Anderson is joined by researchers Michael Ferguson and Jared Nielson in launching the endeavor -- one they hope will answer long-held questions about how religion impacts the faithful.

Considering how important religious adherence is to millions of Americans, Anderson said it's actually surprising how little information is out there about "traditional spiritual experiences" and their impact on the brain.

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"Religious and spiritual types of feelings are among the most profound influences to behavior, how we interact with other people, and yet the neuroscience of spirituality and religion is almost completely unknown," Anderson told Deseret News.

Anderson, Ferguson and Nielson, who have studied Down Syndrome and autism, among other issues, are in the process of recruiting study participants. They are looking for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between the ages of 20 and 30 and who have served missions and are active in the faith.

The researchers will put participants through an MRI scan as they go through a religious program for one hour that includes music, videos, prayer and scripture; Anderson, Ferguson and Nielson will observe them during this process, according to Deseret News.

Screen shot from the Religious Brain Project website

The goal is to see what happens as these activities unfold.

"We think we have the tools now to do a study of brain activity during the really profound and deep types of emotional and social interactions associated with religion, and we're really excited to try and understand more," Anderson explained.

The researcher hypothesized that the brain will likely respond in similar ways, regardless of the faith system espoused by participants.

Find out more about the project here.

Recently, TheBlaze reported on a separate study that found that found evidence that spirituality might help protect the human brain against depression.

“Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this,” Dr. Myrna Weissman, one of the study’s authors and a psychiatry and epidemiology professor at Columbia University, told Reuters. “The brain is an extraordinary organ. It not only controls, but is controlled by our moods.”

(H/T: Deseret News)


Featured image credit via Shutterstock.com
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