Brain activity during the religious experience has been found to be similar to that seen during gambling, sex, love and listening to music.
A recent study, published in the journal Social Neuroscience, which monitored brain activity of devout Mormons during religious videos and the reading of religious quotes, showed activity in areas of the brain central to reward.
Michael Ferguson, the study’s first author, said:
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.
The scans showed activity in the nucleus accumbens, an area often associated with reward and pleasure, in addition to addiction.
Activity also occurred in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain critical to judgment and moral reasoning.
Dr Jeff Anderson, a study co-author, said:
Religious experience is perhaps the most influential part of how people make decisions that affect all of us, for good and for ill.
Understanding what happens in the brain to contribute to those decisions is really important.