Muslim prayer may increase alpha waves in the brain

Connor Wood

Prostration

The religious brain is hot stuff right now. Publications as diverse as Science and Newsweek seem to be gaga about how meditation affects the frontal cortex, how praying soothes the amygdala, or how religious belief affects the psyche. But there’s a catch to all this excitement: nearly all the research focuses on either Christian or Buddhist forms of religious practice. Where are the other religions? A team of researchers from Malaysia recently helped to answer this question by studying how Muslim prayer affects alpha waves in the brain, and their results show a profound connection between mind and body.

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Religion may reduce anxiety response

Connor Wood

ANXIETY

You’ve felt it before: the embarrassed, self-conscious realization that you’ve just committed a major error, made a mistake when you should have been performing better. We all experience this unpleasant feeling. Measuring electrical activity in the brain, researchers call it “error-related negativity,” relating it particularly to a part of the midbrain called the anterior cingulate cortex. New research indicates that religiousness may reduce activity in this part of the brain, physiologically buffering people against their own mistakes. Most interestingly, the source of this effect may be the generation of meaning itself.

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Gamma waves help meditation change the brain

Connor Wood

Gamma_waves

Long-term meditators know that meditation can change people’s experience of the world, usually for the better. Highly experienced practitioners of meditation often report greater feelings of equanimity, patience, and compassion for others – even at times when they’re not meditating, such as during the workday or at dinner with family. Now researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany say they have an explanation for the new states of consciousness that arise as a result of meditation – gamma brain wave states, associated with expert-level meditation, assist in the reshaping of brain structures that persist beyond actual periods of meditation.

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Religious beliefs affect neural self-processing

Connor Wood

Nerve cellIt’s one of the most basic human experiences. The world and I are different things – the world is out there, and I’m looking out at all the action. But this division might not be so strict for everyone. Researchers in China have discovered that people from different cultures show distinctive patterns of neuronal activation when asked to think about themselves. Specifically, Tibetan Buddhists do not exhibit the typical brain activity associated with concepts of a self. This suggests that religious beliefs directly affect not only our neurology, but our fundamental experience of the world.

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