The University of Missouri-Columbia issued the following news release:

Selflessness, Core Of All Major World Religions, Has Neuropsychological
Connection

All spiritual experiences are based in the brain. That statement is
truer than ever before, according to a University of Missouri
neuropsychologist. An MU study has data to support a neuropsychological
model that proposes spiritual experiences associated with selflessness
are related to decreased activity in the right parietal lobe of the brain.

The study is one of the first to use individuals with traumatic brain
injury to determine this connection. Researchers say the implication of
this connection means people in many disciplines, including peace
studies, health care or religion can learn different ways to attain
selflessness, to experience transcendence, and to help themselves and others.

This study, along with other recent neuroradiological studies of
Buddhist meditators and Francescan nuns, suggests that all individuals,
regardless of cultural background or religion, experience the same
neuropsychological functions during spiritual experiences, such as
transcendence. Transcendence, feelings of universal unity and decreased
sense of self, is a core tenet of all major religions. Meditation and
prayer are the primary vehicles by which such spiritual transcendence is
achieved.

“The brain functions in a certain way during spiritual experiences,”
said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the MU School of
Health Professions. “We studied people with brain injury and found that
people with injuries to the right parietal lobe of the brain reported
higher levels of spiritual experiences, such as transcendence.”

This link is important, Johnstone said, because it means selflessness
can be learned by decreasing activity in that part of the brain. He
suggests this can be done through conscious effort, such as meditation
or prayer. People with these selfless spiritual experiences also are
more psychologically healthy, especially if they have positive beliefs
that there is a God or higher power who loves them, Johnstone said.

“This research also addresses questions regarding the impact of
neurologic versus cultural factors on spiritual experience,” Johnstone
said. “The ability to connect with things beyond the self, such as
transcendent experiences, seems to occur for people who minimize right
parietal functioning. This can be attained through cultural practices,
such as intense meditation or prayer or because of a brain injury that
impairs the functioning of the right parietal lobe. Either way, our
study suggests that ‘selflessness’ is a neuropsychological foundation of
spiritual experiences.”

The research was funded by the MU Center on Religion and the
Professions. The study – “Support for a neuropsychological model of
spirituality in persons with traumatic brain injury” – was published in
the peer-reviewed journal Zygon.

“Our research focused on the personal experience of spiritual
transcendence and does not in any way minimize the importance of
religion or personal beliefs, nor does it suggest that spiritual
experience are related only to neuropsychological activity in the
brain,” Johnstone said. “It is important to note that individuals
experience their God or higher power in many different ways, but that
all people from all religions and beliefs appear to experience these
connections in a similar way.”

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