After Bourdain: Is Spirituality the Key?

“Union with a higher being” may prevent depression

(Maria Cohut, Medical News Today) What does spiritual experience do to the human brain? A recent study claims to hold the answer.

For decades, researchers have conducted studies investigating what happens in the brain when people feel deeply spiritually connected.

Since “spirituality” can be understood in so many different ways across cultures and individuals — and that whatever someone may term a “spiritual experience” can stimulate the brain in very complex ways — it has been hard to pinpoint a brain mechanism for spirituality.

Nevertheless, researchers have persevered. So, studies on Carmelite nuns and dedicated Mormon practitioners have suggested that multiple brain regions are involved in processing experiences of union with a higher being.

Also, individuals engaging in long-term spiritual practice had decreased activity in the right parietal lobe, which has been tied to self-oriented focus.

In other words, spiritual experiences seemed to increase, as it were, selflessness in the brain.

Spirituality against depression?

Prof. Lisa Miller has conducted a series of studies on what happens in, or to, the brains of people with intense spiritual lives.

Her research has indicated that people with habitual spiritual practices show cortical thickening in the prefrontal cortex.

Intriguingly, she says that individuals who live with chronic depression experience cortical thinning in the same brain region.

This has led her to argue that spirituality and depression are likely “two sides of the same coin.”

Spirituality may ‘buffer the effects of stress’

Studying the volunteers’ brain activity as they pictured a personal spiritual experience allowed scientists to identify the brain regions that seemed to be involved in processing spiritual events.

Miller and colleagues also compared the brain activity observed as the participants described a spiritual experience with the brain activity seen as the volunteers imagined either stressful or neutral experiences that did not trigger any strong emotions. Read more at Medical News Today.

Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade: Could Fish Oil Have Helped?