Functional Connectivity Correlates of Spiritual Experience

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Introduction: There are numerous studies that explore the underlying neurophysiological processes of spiritual and religious experiences. However, there is one method that is yet to be explored: comparing resting brain states with qualitative markers of spirituality. We posit that using this methodology will identify specific brain regions that are neurophysiologically correlated to spiritual and religious practices and experiences.

Methods: In order to do so, resting state blood oxygen level dependent magnetic resonance imaging (rsBOLD MRI) was used to obtain resting states for 31 (15M/16F) volunteers ranging from 21 and 82 years (mean 37±23 years). These images were then compared using ROI-to-ROI analysis to scores from the following spirituality measures: Index of Core Spiritual Experiences (INSPIRIT), the Purpose in Life Scale, the Mysticism Scale, the Quest Scale, and Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS). This was done to isolate particular areas of significance from the Resting State images that would pertain to particular spirituality measures.

Results: Particular areas that were identified are the right inferior temporal lobe-default mode network, right fusiform cortex-right lateral visual cortex, and the right inferior temporal lobe and posterior cingulate (p<0.05). These regions correspond to existing literature that delineates them as significant in religious and spiritual practice. Furthermore, the individual functions of these regions also provide support towards these findings.

Discussion: Overall, this study provides novel exploration of the functional connectivity correlates of religious and spiritual experiences and identified regions that are of significance and further solidify ROIs outlined by existing literature. Through appropriately identifying the underlying neural correlates of religious and spiritual experiences, these findings will increase our understanding of these practices. And these regions can be appropriately compared when analyzing religious and spiritual practices in relation to other factors such as treatments for mental health.



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