What religion does to your brain

Whether or not a divine power truly does exist might be a matter of opinion, but the neurophysiological effects of religious belief are scientific facts that can be accurately measured. Here, we take a look at some of these effects, as shown by the latest research.

Whether you are a staunch atheist, a reserved agnostic, or a devout believer, you are equally likely to find the effects of religion on human brains astonishing.

Religious belief can increase our lifespan and help us better cope with disease.

And, research in the field of “neurotheology” — or the neuroscience of theological belief — has made some surprising discoveries that are bound to change how we think about spirituality.

For instance, some scientists suggest that religious experience activates the same brain circuits as sex and drugs.

Other research has suggested that damage to a certain brain region can make you feel as though someone’s in the room when nobody’s there. Such findings have intriguing implications for how religion affects health, and vice-versa.

Also, do the neurobiological underpinnings of religious experience mean that it could be artificially recreated? If a divine experience proves to be biologically predetermined, does having the right scientific information enable us to create the illusion of a god?

Below, we take a look at some of these questions. While researchers may not have all the answers yet, pieces of the puzzle are coming together to form a scientific picture of divinity that is shaping up to be quite different from those we find in the holy books.

Different religions have different effects

Dr. Andrew Newberg, who is a professor of neuroscience and the director of the Research Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at the Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Villanova, PA, explains that different religious practices have different effects on one’s brain.

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