December 18, 2008
Selflessness linked to part of the brain
A U.S. researcher suggests people, despite cultural background or religion, experience the same neuropsychological functions during spiritual experiences.
Brick Johnstone, a neuropsychologist at the University of Missouri, said that transcendence -- feelings of universal unity and decreased sense of self -- is a core tenet of all major religions. Meditation and prayer are the primary vehicles by which such spiritual transcendence is achieved.
The brain functions in a certain way during spiritual experiences, Johnstone said in a statement.
We studied people with brain injury and found that people with injuries to the right parietal lobe of the brain reported higher levels of spiritual experiences, such as transcendence.
Johnstone explained that the link is important because it means selflessness can be learned by decreasing activity in that part of the brain. He suggests this can be done through conscious effort, such as meditation or prayer. People with these selfless spiritual experiences also are more psychologically healthy, especially if they have positive beliefs that there is a God or higher power who loves them, Johnstone said.
It is important to note that individuals experience their God or higher power in many different ways, but that all people from all religions and beliefs appear to experience these connections in a similar way, Johnstone said.
The finding is published in the journal Zygon.