What Is the God Spot?
First of all, what exactly is meant by “God Spot?” Research shows that University of California neuroscientists discovered what they described as a very tiny area in the frontal lobe of the brain that they believed activated during religious experiences. Named “The God Spot,” it was believed to be a particular tiny nerve center in the brain with the specific purpose of communicating with God.
Neuroscientists discovered this “God Spot” nerve center while they were studying epileptic patients who reported intense mystical experiences during their seizures.
Neurotheology is a relatively new field of science that is trying to determine if religion and spiritual experiences have a biological basis in our brains. In other words, are humans hard wired to be religious? Do humans have a direct link to God, and does God have a direct link to humans, embedded in their brains? How does prayer or being religious affect the human brain? Are the affects of religion and prayer visible in the physical structure of the brain?
Researchers have done numerous studies involving hundreds of participants in an effort to determine what parts of the brain, if any, are affected when a person prays. They want to learn and understand if religion makes a difference that can be seen on a scan of the brain.
Researchers want to know if a particular religion, or no religion, makes a difference that can be seen in the brain, or if religion in general makes a difference in the brain regardless of one’s denomination or religious persuasion. They want to learn if frequency of praying or if length of the prayer makes a visible difference in the brain. Researchers are hoping to learn if prayer (or meditation) must last for a particular duration to have visible affects, either positive or negative, on the brain.
Prayer; Both The Most Common Alternative and The Most Common Accompaniment To Medical Intervention
When facing difficult health issues and choices, people of all religions turn to prayer or meditation, whether they decide to proceed with medical intervention or not.
Many studies have been done by a variety of methods in an attempt to discover not only if prayer and religion affect the brain directly, but also whether prayer has more effect on the person praying, or on the person being prayed for.
Researchers have conducted studies to determine what if any noticeable benefits resulted from people praying for improvement of their own medical condition, if family and friends praying for improvement of their medical condition made a difference, and if strangers praying for someone made a difference in that person’s medical condition.
Scientists also want to know if one type of prayer is more beneficial than another. In other words, is there more benefit when a person prays a particular prayer, or can a person simply talk to God like they would talk to a friend? Does meditation have as good a result as prayer? Do positive thoughts about a person’s condition by family and friends or by one’s self produce results equal to or better than praying to God?
A variety of measures have been utilized in an effort to find scientific proof that praying makes a difference to people facing health issues. Sometimes blood pressure was measured, sometimes anxiety levels were measured, and even the number of doctor visits a patient made was taken into consideration.
The success of prayer by any means can be very difficult to measure exactly because there are so many variables. Does it matter how reverent the petitioner of the prayer is? Does it matter how close the person praying is to a place of worship while they are praying? Does it matter how close in physical or emotional proximity the petitioner is to the person they are praying for? These questions remain unanswered, but researchers are working to find the answers.
Some studies show that when a person prays for themselves, for guidance, help in confronting problems, etc., that they do receive emotional and psychological benefits. Some studies show that the prayers of people who have a connection to the person being prayed for do make a difference. Some studies show that when strangers pray for strangers there is no perceivable affect.
Neuro-imaging Has Changed The Way Scientists Can Study The Human Brain
A large community of neurotheologists, neurologists, and psychologists from all over the world are now involved in studying how the brain is affected during prayer and meditation
There has been interest in and studies of how religion affects the brain since the 50s, but one important new technological advance that is available to researchers now is neuro-imaging of a living, working brain.
Even back in the 50s and 60s, scientists knew that a person’s brain waves change when they meditate or pray, but they were unable to determine exactly which regions of the brain turn on, or off, and which brain circuits become active when people believe they are in contact with God. Neuro-imaging of the brain has changed that and now it is possible to determine which parts of the brain are involved during meditation and/or prayer, and which areas become quiet.
David Wulff of Wheaton College in Massachusetts is quoted by Sharon Begley in The Daily Beast, as saying, ‘”Spiritual experiences are so consistent across cultures, across time and across faiths, that it “suggest[s] a common core that is likely a reflection of structures and processes in the human brain.”’
Of course everything a person sees, hears, smells, or experiences in any way is reflected in their brain, so it should not be a surprise that religious experiences are reflected there as well. Even a person’s thoughts affect the physical structure of the brain, which is why scientists have been promoting positive thinking.
What scientists want to learn is why religious experiences have the unique qualities they appear to have. They want to learn whether or not any human can have these same profound experiences of being one with the universe (as some people have described it) or of communing or being close to God (as other people have described it) regardless of their specific religion, or denomination, or lack of religion.
Prayer Changes The Brain
Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and lab director at the University of Wisconsin in Madison says, ‘”You can sculpt your brain just as you’d sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym. Our brains are continuously being sculpted, whether you like it or not, wittingly or unwittingly.”’ This is true whether you pray or meditate or not. Everything our brain processes affects our brain and makes or causes actual physical changes to our brain.
Dr. Davidson references many studies on the subject of neurotheology, but one study in particular where employees at a high-tech firm meditated a few minutes a day over a few weeks, produced the most dramatic results — “Just two months’ practice among rank amateurs led to a systematic change in both the brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions,” Davidson said. It seems the group that meditated developed more antibodies to a flu virus than their counterparts who did not meditate.
Gail Ironson, a professor, and AIDS researcher at the University of Miami in Florida, conducting a study on how prayer affects people with AIDS concluded that while it was important for patients to take their medications correctly, results of her studies showed that people who turned to God benefitted more from that act, both physically and mentally, than they did from the medications they were taking. That’s a pretty powerful statement. Further, people who did not feel a connection to God did not benefit as much, or at all.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, who wrote the report writes, “Ironson calls the finding extraordinary. She was one of the first researchers to connect a patient’s approach to God to specific chemical changes in the body.”
Does Prayer Have A Positive Effect on Other People Too? Can We Affect The Health of Other People Through Our Positive Thoughts and Prayers?
On the other hand, Richard Sloan, professor of Behavioral Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, says there is no indication or proof that strangers praying for strangers has any effect, much less a positive affect on anyone’s health.
Some researchers believe the reason strangers praying for strangers has little or no effect is because there is no personal connection between the praying and the prayed for. The question then becomes, can a person pray for a loved one and get better results?
Three dozen studies have been conducted by credible, respected universities, and all have had the same results. When people have a connection such as husband and wife, there is a definite reaction. Studies have not been done with persons who have other connections, such as siblings, parents and children, cousins, and other relationships, so there is not scientific proof that a connection other than husband and wife would get the same results. Even so, scientists are optimistic that having a connection would matter.
Then one might ask, would a friendship connection have the same effect when there is no genetic or blood tie to the person being prayed for. Might a friendship connection be a better connection when family members are not close or if they are estranged? If the family members are not close, but are estranged, would that cancel out the advantage of the “connection” and have the same results as if the prayed for and the people praying were strangers?
Andrew Newberg, M.D., a neuroscientist who is also the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College, an Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies, and an Associate Professor of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, believes that meditation and prayer reduce stress and improve memory. Says Newberg, “Religion and spirituality do help to lower a person’s feelings of depression, anxiety, [and] gives them some meaning in life, helps them to cope with things . . .”
Newberg further says that the “kind of God you worship can affect the structure of your brain.” However, “Newberg has made another discovery, a controversial one, that our belief system, how we view God, can make a huge difference in how it affects our well being. If we believe in a loving God it can have a positive effect, even prolong our lives. But believing in a judgmental, authoritarian God can produce fear, anger, and stress, and that’s not healthy (PBS).
According to Newberg, anger and hatred have a negative effect on a person’s mental and physical well being as well as on society as a whole.
Summary: Does A God Spot Exist In Humans? Even Atheists?
Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions at Missouri University says the “God Spot” is not isolated to just one area of the brain. Johnstone says spirituality is complex and recent studies show it involves multiple areas of the brain.
Reported in the Huff Post April 20, 2012: “ . . . research does not make claims about spiritual truths but demonstrates the way that the brain allows for different kinds of spiritual experiences that Christians might name God, [for] Buddhists it could be Nirvana, and for atheists it might be the feeling of being connected to the earth.”
This would seem to be a very complicated subject indeed, and various studies have in some cases shown mixed results when it comes to the efficacy of prayer, the importance of the connection the prayer has to the subject of the prayer, and even how different people are affected depending on their religious beliefs. Yes, and some studies are even in opposition to each other regarding the physical changes the brain undergoes when spirituality of any kind is involved.
I hope everyone will follow the links throughout this hub so that you will have a complete picture of what this is all about so far as what is understood about the God Spot, or God Spots, as some people refer to them, at this moment.
Be aware that as more studies are conducted and more knowledge is gained on this subject, as well as the means of measuring and studying this subject improve; a clearer more definitive understanding of this issue should emerge.
Updated Information October 20, 2012
Since publishing the above report, new information has become available, mainly in the form of a video that shows and explains the changes in the brain during prayer and meditation.
Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Medical College, says the frontal lobes where the language center of the brain is located, reacts the same way during prayer or meditation as it does during conversation.
The photo at the top, right side, of this page showing red areas in the brain indicate that the person whose brain is being scanned believes they are in a conversation with another person. When the brains of people who do not believe in God are scanned as they contemplate God, there is no such indication.
I recommend that you follow this link and watch the video for a better and more in depth explanation of this phenomenon.
© 2012 C E Clark