Thursday, December 18, 2008

Study Reveals Neuropsychological Basis of Selflessness

According to new research, selflessness can be learned through activities such as meditation and prayer. Researchers at MU School of Health Professions studied people with brain injuries, discovering that people with injuries to the right parietal region of the brain experience higher levels of spiritual transcendence. When we pray or meditate, activity in the right parietal region of the brain decreases, opening us to experiences that can promote psychological health and well-being.

According to Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions, “The brain functions in a certain way during spiritual experiences. 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.”Johnstone feels the link is important, because it means that if we make a conscious effort we can connect with things beyond ourselves. The implication is that people in health care, or anyone engaged in peace studies, or religion can use meditation or prayer to decrease activity in the parietal lobe of the brain. In turn, a state of selflessness is created, benefiting individual mental health, while providing a genuine focus on the needs of others.

Johnstone further explains, “This research also addresses questions regarding the impact of neurologic versus cultural factors on spiritual experience. 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 MU research was the first to use people with traumatic brain injuries to study the neuropsychological basis of spirituality. It also shows that we can all learn how to transcend, or go beyond our senses to improve our own state of well-being, as well as helping others.

Modern definitions of transcendence refer to truth, unity and goodness. According to Johnstone, “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. Our research focused on the personal experience of spiritual transcendence and does not in any way minimize the importance of religion or personal beliefs…”


Selflessness - The Core of All Major World Religions - Has Neuropsychological Connection, MU Study Finds