Study: Brain Chemicals Key to Spiritual Experience
Lower serotonin levels make people more open to religious practices, experiences.
The participants also underwent PET scans to determine their serotonin levels. Analyzing the date from the two tests, the researchers discovered a strong linear correlation: the higher the scores for spiritual acceptance, the lower the density of the serotonin receptors.
"There is more to say that low serotonin is linked with people who are open to spiritual or supernatural experiences," explained Farde. "Whereas the higher levels go more with people who believe what they see with their eyes and are not so open to God or other aspects of religion."
Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, an assistant professor in the departments of radiology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, said this is an integral study in understanding the biology behind spirituality and religion.
"This is a big question that has been raised," said Newberg, who researches the connection between spirituality and the brain, or neurotheology. "We always talk about people that are predisposed to certain experiences, and the question is why."
According to Newberg, this research may be useful in a number of ways, including guiding people to practices that might better suit their disposition by understanding how people are spiritually different.
"This is helping us understand how religion and spirituality affect the global us and lead us to better knowledge to how people differ and religions differ - and how they affect people better than others or worse than others," Newberg said.
Farde also indicated that understanding the role of the brain in religion and spirituality may create more respect for plurality and the way we are religious beings. While the research does not explain whether a person has a belief system, Farde said, it might indicate why the person may be more attuned to a charismatic church as opposed to one with more order and tranquility.
" Because people are different in the way they perceive religion and spirituality, it adds to the difficulty of understanding and respecting each other, " Farde explained. "By understanding the genetic component, this data can support that differences may not be a matter of views or dogma but can also be related to the way we are created from the beginning."
Dr. Keith Meador, director of the Theology and Medicine program at Duke University, said that while the article is interesting, it points toward a lot more work to be done.