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Controversial: Brain Scan Shows Religion Has Same Effect as Drugs, Religious Extremism Explained

Dec 02, 2016 04:21 AM EST

A new research has established the connection brain activity when conducting religious engagements and results showed that the effect is the same as the effect of drugs, love, sex and gambling.

Researchers at University of Utah used MRA scans to examine how 19 young Mormons' brains were affected when they "felt the spirit," The Independent reported. The small study is among the first ones to show such result. Specifically seven women and 12 men were used to conduct the study.

"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 a press release.

"In the last few years, brain imaging technologies have matured in ways that are letting us approach questions that have been around for millennia."

As per the study, the researchers created an environment where spiritual arousal will be triggered. The experiment included six minutes of rest; six minutes of audiovisual control; 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; and another eight minutes of quotations.

They found out that the response of the subjects on the environment is associated with the stimulation in the nucleus accumbens, a critical brain region for processing reward.

Science Alert noted that this part of the brain controls feelings of addiction and is responsible for the release of the "feel-good" hormone dopamine. Aside from the brain reaction, they also had pulsating heart rates and breathing.

"When our study participants were instructed to think about a saviour, about being with their families for eternity, about their heavenly rewards, their brains and bodies physically responded," said team member Michael Ferguson.

Aside from the nucleus accumbens, their medial prefrontal cortex, a region associated moral reasoning also reacted.

The study provides more information on the scientific connection of the brain and religious extremism.

Since the study only included Mormons, the researchers hope that further studies that would include people with different religious affiliations be conducted.

The study was published in the journal Social Neuroscience.

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