Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

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sock puppet
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Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by sock puppet »

In April 2016, a study based on young, yet devout RMs led neuroscientists to conclude that religious experience triggers the same reward mechanism in/part of the brain as sex and drugs. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/10.1080 ... 16.1257437

This study was reported in Medical News Today, as
The researchers selected a group of participants that were more likely to experience recognizable spiritual feelings in a controlled environment. As such, they excluded individuals who did not report experiencing spiritual feelings on a daily basis or who did not report going to church regularly.

Participants had the average age of 27.4 years. Seven of the participants were women and 12 were men. All of the participants were former religious missionaries.

The Mormon religious practice consists of prayer, scripture study, audiovisual presentations of religious music, and teaching of church leaders and authorities.

To simulate these practices in a controlled environment, researchers designed a 1-hour session, which is the typical length of a Mormon religious service.

Participants were exposed to religiously evocative audiovisual material while their brains were scanned using multiband fMRI.

Recreating religious experience in a controlled environment

The test treated each participant as their own control, so the intensity of religious experiences was compared with their own individual baseline.

The session started with a 6-minute resting state, where participants were asked to close their eyes and let thoughts go through their mind without focusing on anything in particular.

Then, for 6 minutes, devotees looked at a video detailing membership statistics of their Mormon church and the details of an internal financial audit. This was meant as an audiovisual control.

For the following 8 minutes, participants were exposed to 24 quotations by Mormon and non-Mormon world religious leaders.

Each quotation was displayed for 10 seconds and followed by the question: “Are you feeling the Spirit?”

Answers ranged from 1 – not feeling, 2 – moderately feeling, 3 – strongly feeling, and 4 – very strongly feeling. Participants had been instructed before the test to select an answer by pressing a button.

This was followed by another question: “How spiritually meaningful is this quotation to you?”

Responses ranged from 1 – less spiritually meaningful, 2 – moderately spiritually meaningful, 3 – very spiritually meaningful, and 4 – deeply spiritually meaningful.

The visual stimuli, including the questions and answer options, were synchronized with the brain scanning process, which used blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) contrast.

The questions enabled scientists to later separate the cognitive effects of decision-making and button-pressing from the neuroimaging results.

Participants were then asked to close their eyes and pray for 6 minutes.

Next, subjects were told to read familiar passages from the Book of Mormon for 8 minutes. Each scriptural passage was shown for 20 seconds and then followed by the questions: “Are you feeling the Spirit?” and “How spiritually meaningful is this passage to you?,” with appropriate answer scales.

Subsequently, participants were exposed for another 12 minutes to audiovisual content, namely a video of family, biblical scenes, and other religiously evocative content produced by the church. Participants could press only one button when feeling the peak of a religious experience, or press it multiple times if the feelings were more intense.

Finally, the session ended with 8 minutes of the last 24 quotations, designed and administered the same way as the first time.

Ensuring the accuracy of the results

Before the imaging session, participants were asked to self-report on their religious behavior using a questionnaire.

After the neuroimaging session, each of the subjects also took part in a debriefing session where they were asked to describe and rate the quality of the religious experiences had during the brain-scanning session.

This enabled scientists to compare the religious practice in the scientific environment with the feelings typically experienced in regular religious practice. As the authors mention, the results indicate the experiences felt during the scanning session “conformed in quality and magnitude with meaningful experiences in private and group religious practice.”

Throughout the functional imaging sessions, researchers also recorded physiological responses in the participants, such as heart rate and respiratory rate. These data were synchronized to the beginning of the BOLD imaging.

Spiritual experience activates same reward circuits as sex and drugs

Religious devotees reported progressive and sustained subjective experience during the scan. They identified feelings of peace and physical sensations of warmth.

“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,” says co-lead author Michael Ferguson, Ph.D.

Religious experience, equated with “feeling the spirit,” was associated with brain activation in areas commonly associated with reward.

These areas are the bilateral nucleus accumbens, as well as the frontal attentional and ventromedial prefrontal cortical loci.

Participants’ hearts beat faster and their breathing deepened as they were experiencing peaks of religious experience.

The study shows that religious and spiritual experiences activate the same brain reward circuits as love, sex, gambling, drugs, and music.

The striatum was also activated during prayer, an area that had been associated with the practice in previous studies.
So it seems that perhaps the "sins" of sex (outside marriage), gambling, and drugs are competitors to "feeling the spirit" (the Mormon hook, as well as that of several other religions). The LDS Church encourages some music, while discouraging other types.

The reason for my bringing this study and topic back up almost 6 years after the fact is that I do not recall what if any was the response to it and its findings and conclusions by the LDS hierarchy or its self-appointed defenders. Was there any reaction? What was it? Or did the LDS church and its defenders just choose to ignore this study?
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by malkie »

Fun fact: the lead author, Michael A Ferguson, is a member of the CoC, Toronto Congregation (Centre Place), and a friend of mine.
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

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My primary response to this may or perhaps not be an intended part of the experiment. I get the impression that the group of people have fairly well trained "religious experience" response. I have some uncertainty in what should be called religious experience but these folks seem to be fairly sure.

the next thing I notice was that the noted areas of similarity in the article were more diverse than the sex and drugs that you noted in the intro, Sock Puppet. Ok those may be more eye catching. I wonder if they might have included solving a puzzle seeing a nice suprise cooking a nice meal and other pleasant things.

I am not sure if there is any reason to think that religious experience should not happen with the same biological process as other human experiences. Even if one was to imagine that the Spirit of God got involved in some of the programed experiences I imagine it would process biologically in the same ways other pleasantries are experienced.

Then I could wonder if less pleasant religious experiences would register differently?
What about conviction of guilt? Perhaps a recognition of past error or the realization that your ego is larger than justified? Well I am sure such experiences that people have would also be observable in regions of the brain, perhaps not quite the same as sex music and good food.
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by Gadianton »

In April 2016, a study based on young, yet devout RMs led neuroscientists to conclude that religious experience triggers the same reward mechanism in/part of the brain as sex and drugs
Then I'm either broken or Mormonism works differently than other religions. I didn't experience much other than drudgery.
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by Doctor Scratch »

Gadianton wrote:
Sat Jan 15, 2022 4:18 am
In April 2016, a study based on young, yet devout RMs led neuroscientists to conclude that religious experience triggers the same reward mechanism in/part of the brain as sex and drugs
Then I'm either broken or Mormonism works differently than other religions. I didn't experience much other than drudgery.
I don’t think you’re “broken,” Dean Robbers—I think that you just weren’t ever “devout” per the study’s definitions. I mean, think about the Mopologists: they very much behave like addicts—and by their own admission! And they’re extremely resentful about other types of “addictive” but pleasures: alcohol, porn, etc. DCP feels like a loser because he’s never tasted Bordeaux. But somewhere along the line, they got a “high” from doing Church stuff, and so they’ve been hooked ever since.
"If, while hoping that everybody else will be honest and so forth, I can personally prosper through unethical and immoral acts without being detected and without risk, why should I not?." --Daniel Peterson, 6/4/14
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by Moksha »

huckelberry wrote:
Sat Jan 15, 2022 3:15 am
... the next thing I notice was that the noted areas of similarity in the article were more diverse than the sex and drugs that you noted in the intro, Sock Puppet. Ok those may be more eye catching. I wonder if they might have included solving a puzzle seeing a nice suprise cooking a nice meal and other pleasant things.
A follow-up study using phallometry to gauge the level of arousal when apologists make ad hominem attacks at Sic et Non would be useful for the world of science. Maybe some of those old machines from the Oaks era are still in storage in the basement of the MTC.
Cry Heaven and let loose the Penguins of Peace
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by drumdude »

BS: "Can you clarify? Are you claiming there are now many verified incidences of "the kind of evidence for a disembodied consciousness that would satisfy a scientist"?"

Yes. There more than a few scientists who are satisfied.

I keep seeing DP post this. If a couple scientists believe something, then he sees it as justification for his belief in it.

This is the same cherrypicking that allows vaccine deniers to spout their lies, and Trump "election was stolen" pundits to spread theirs.

The only way DP would ever be skeptical of something is if no scientist, anywhere, ever advocated it. What a high bar!
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by Don Bradley »

malkie wrote:
Fri Jan 14, 2022 9:48 pm
Fun fact: the lead author, Michael A Ferguson, is a member of the CoC, Toronto Congregation (Centre Place), and a friend of mine.
Also a friend of mine. And a wonderful human being.

He is also a believer in God, and specifically a God who answers prayers. His study was not attempting to denigrate Latter-day Saint spiritual experience.
malkie
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by malkie »

Don Bradley wrote:
Wed Jan 19, 2022 3:46 am
malkie wrote:
Fri Jan 14, 2022 9:48 pm
Fun fact: the lead author, Michael A Ferguson, is a member of the CoC, Toronto Congregation (Centre Place), and a friend of mine.
Also a friend of mine. And a wonderful human being.

He is also a believer in God, and specifically a God who answers prayers. His study was not attempting to denigrate Latter-day Saint spiritual experience.
Absolutely - and I hope nobody would doubt Michael's sincerity or his belief.

Edited to add: Nice to see you back again, Don - or even just popping in for a visit.
Physics Guy
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Re: Revisiting the 2016 neuroscience study

Post by Physics Guy »

What if God wants us to believe, but instead of giving us evidence that would lead us to believe rationally, gave us instincts for faith?

It might be a somewhat cynical educational approach by God, like a teacher getting kids to learn arithmetic by rewarding them with candy. The kids would reach the right conclusions but for bogus reasons; instead of understanding numbers they’d just memorize the times tables that brought the most sweets.

On the other hand maybe some cynicism is appropriate, and God should know human nature.
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