How the brain escapes the self

Connor Wood

Religious experiences get described in a lot of ways. People gushingly talk about a profound sense of oneness, about incredible bliss, joy, and ineffable meaning. One thing you almost never hear, however, is that a religious experience made someone more greedy and selfish. No one ever says, “Hey, you know what? I just experienced ultimate spiritual bliss, and boy, did it ever make me focus neurotically on my own struggles, financial problems, and dating insecurities!” Why this incompatibility between spirituality and self-absorption? A team of researchers from the University of Missouri thinks that the reason might be found in the brain, where reduced function in the region associated with self-awareness is correlated with greater spirituality.

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Spirituality may reduce desire to conspicuously consume

Connor Wood

Conspicuous_consumption

When you think of the word “spirituality,” what comes to mind? Luxury yachts, designer footwear, and shopping vacations in Europe, right? Nope – we didn’t think so. For most people, spirituality and religiousness seem to be deeply counterposed to materialistic desires and concerns. The Buddha renounced a life of royal luxury to seek enlightenment, for example, while Jesus urged his followers to give away all they owned. Now, research has found that merely asking people to think about spiritual experiences makes them less materialistic, regardless of their sense of meaning in life, levels of self-control, or even mood.

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God spot in the brain? More like God spots

Nicholas C. DiDonato

God_spots

Neurologists have long wondered whether a particular part of the brain can help explain a person’s experience of God. Stanley Koren and Michael Persinger, for example, famously developed the “God helmet,” a device that stimulated what they called “the God spot” and so induced its wearer to feel the presence of God. (Interestingly enough, the device had little effect on the popular atheist writer Richard Dawkins.) However, neuropsychologists Brick Johnstone and Bret Glass (both University of Missouri) challenge the plausibility of the “God spot,” arguing that spirituality involves many areas of the brain.

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The new spiritual soldier

Jonathan Morgan

Spiritual_soldier

When we picture boot camp, we think of yelling, push-ups, long marches, more yelling and… spiritual training? With the U.S. Army’s new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, (CSF), spiritual fitness may become just as important as all those push-ups. The army wants motivated, resilient, and morally  grounded soldiers, so they’ve paid heed to the research linking spirituality with health. By teaming up with psychologist Kenneth Pargament at Bowling Green State University and the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, they’ve created a program to build strong spirits and strong bodies.

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Drugs and spirituality in Eastern Europe

Connor Wood

Imagine

In most religious congregations, consuming illegal drugs during the service would result in a less than enthusiastic response from the ecclesiastical leadership. Indeed, survey after survey has shown that religiosity and drug use are reliably negatively correlated – the more religious you are, the less likely you are to do drugs of any kind. But the story may not be so simple. Researchers in Eastern Europe are finding a potential counter-phenomenon: consumers of certain drugs, particularly marijuana and psychedelics, may be more inclined to mystical and spiritual experiences.

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Medicine and religion – Part II

Connor Wood

Physician_prayerIn December 2011, the Journal of Behavioral Medicine dedicated an entire issue to studies focusing on religion, spirituality, and health. Many of these papers attempt to correct shortcomings in the previous religion-health literature, including a lack of good theoretical grounding and lack of longitudinal, or long-duration, research methodologies. This is Part II of a two-part article summarizing and reviewing the studies from this issue. [Read more...]

Religion and personality

Nicholas C. DiDonato

religious_personality

Envision the typical religious believer. What personality traits come to mind? For some people, religious people epitomize ignorance, intolerance, and stubbornness; for others, they personify love, grace, and forgiveness. Of course, simply asking how people perceive a certain group in no way indicates whether they accurately perceived said group. An empirical approach is needed. Taking up this challenge, psychologist Vassilis Sarogloul (Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium) argues that the fundamental personality characteristics of the religious, regardless of culture, are Agreeableness and Conscientiousness. [Read more...]


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