Study: Brain Chemicals Key to Spiritual Experience

Lower serotonin levels make people more open to religious practices, experiences.

BY: Frederica Saylor


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"We looked at how they view the existence of a spiritual realm," said Farde. "You can take the extremes. The person who scores very low might be a technician who says they believe the things they see, the things they can measure, whereas they don't believe anything beyond that. The other extreme might be the new-age type, or the person who believes that nature has a soul and views the spiritual reality as more important than the reality seen by our eyes."

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.

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