Church = Sex?

Do you feel good when you go to church?  I'm not talking about dropping the guilt for all the times you don't, but a true, down deep feeling of peace?

That's your brain rewarding you, according to newswise.com.

A new study has found that religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

“We’re just beginning to understand how the brain participates in experiences that believers interpret as spiritual, divine or transcendent,” says senior author and neuroradiologist Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D. “In the last few years, brain imaging technologies have matured in ways that are letting us approach questions that have been around for millennia.”

Specifically, the investigators set out to determine which brain networks are involved in representing spiritual feelings in one group, devout Mormons, by creating an environment that triggered participants to “feel the Spirit.” Identifying this feeling of peace and closeness with God in oneself and others is a critically important part of Mormons’ lives — they make decisions based on these feelings; treat them as confirmation of doctrinal principles; and view them as a primary means of communication with the divine.

During MRI scans, 19 young-adult church members — including seven females and 12 males — performed four tasks in response to content meant to evoke spiritual feelings. The hour-long exam included six minutes of rest; six minutes of audiovisual control (a video detailing their church’s membership statistics); eight minutes of quotations by Mormon and world religious leaders; eight minutes of reading familiar passages from the Book of Mormon; 12 minutes of audiovisual stimuli (church-produced video of family and Biblical scenes, and other religiously evocative content); and another eight minutes of quotations.

During the initial quotations portion of the exam, participants — each a former full-time missionary — were shown a series of quotes, each followed by the question “Are you feeling the spirit?” Participants responded with answers ranging from “not feeling” to “very strongly feeling.”

Researchers collected detailed assessments of the feelings of participants, who, almost universally, reported experiencing the kinds of feelings typical of an intense worship service. They described feelings of peace and physical sensations of warmth. Many were in tears by the end of the scan. In one experiment, participants pushed a button when they felt a peak spiritual feeling while watching church-produced stimuli.

“When our study participants were instructed to think about a savior, about being with their families for eternity, about their heavenly rewards, their brains and bodies physically responded,” says lead author Michael Ferguson, Ph.D., who carried out the study as a bioengineering graduate student at the University of Utah.

Based on MRI scans, the researchers found that powerful spiritual feelings were reproducibly associated with activation in a critical brain region for processing reward. Peak activity occurred about 1-3 seconds before participants pushed the button and was replicated in each of the four tasks. As participants were experiencing peak feelings, their hearts beat faster and their breathing deepened.

So I guess the answer is, yes.






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