Does God Affect Our Brain?

Have you ever seen colors spelled out using the wrong color font?

It’s called the Stroop task and it might look like this: Red Blue Green Yellow. Instead of reading the word, you have to determine the color of the word.

Researchers from the University of Toronto, led by psychologist Michael Inzlicht, PhD, examined subjects’ brains during the Stroop task to find out if believers’ and non-believers’ brains functioned differently under stress.

Subjects had a split second before having to push a button indicating what color they saw. At the same time, they were hooked up to a brain monitoring device which measured activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

The ACC is a part of the brain that fires when we need to modify our behavior in a stressful situation, like when we make a mistake or when we experience uncertainty.
Neurotheology
Participants who had stronger religious beliefs made fewer mistakes on the Stroop task and, when they did mess up, exhibited less ACC firing.

According to this study, spiritual and religious beliefs may help prevent anxiety and reduce stress by means of regulating a certain part of the brain.

Researchers found the same results even when they took subjects’ IQ and personality into account.

Now this study wasn’t randomized or controlled, so we cannot determine causation, but the results do suggest that religion and spirituality could be a factor in lessening anxiety during pressure situations, as well as lowering stress when we make mistakes.

You can find the full article in Psychological Science.

Spirituality may be useful in building confidence about the unknown and preventing anxiety when we make a mistake. People make errors on a daily basis − it’s part of being human, but sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves.

Because spirituality can have practical applications for improving daily life, we pulled together some of the world’s top spiritual teachers to share their wisdom.

Be sure to check out our Spirituality in Healing Webinar Series.

Has spirituality ever helped your patients forgive themselves for mistakes they’ve made? Please leave a comment below.

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25 Comments

  1. home says:

    hdvevepytadltsvywwlswvvwtnfpawmijejiicjeemhylfvmabdnjkjquhcb

  2. Mark Hollas says:

    I attended a seminar back in 1992 and Don Vernine was speaking and he had handed out a few pages of his presentation entitled ” The Right Relationship” it had some very good information that I could relate to in my life . I had kept that copy for many years and now cannot put my hands on it. Does Don still train on this topic and do you know how I might obtain a copy of that presentation once again. Thank you.
    Mark Hollas
    mhollas8908@gmail.com
    Texas

  3. Ruth, What I love about your approach and the lectures you offer is HOLISM; you come at healing from as many perspectives as can be imagned: no holds barred. Fitting philosophy for the 21st century. And clearly the multilogue illustrates resonance from many sectors of the healing arts. Thank you so much!

  4. Tony Sansomgower says:

    I trained originally as an Anglican Priest in Australia and practiced that profession successfully for 25 years. I moved across into Social Work in the late 80’s and have been active since then in human service areas. At least I can claim now I’m a ‘senior’ social worker! Clients I’ve seen who possess an internal belief system that is ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘political’ or ‘nationalistic’ present with fewer trauma related distress symptoms, lower observable anxiety levels, stronger affect management systems, more cohesive world views. Leaving aside arguments about validity I’m inclined to the view that these internal mechanisms are condusive to inner homeostasis and as such appear valuable. My only concern is that Erickson has clearly identified in his 8th stage the inevitable conflict that awaits such belief systems as older persons near the end of life and inner integrity is sought. Growing old does not always mean growing up.

  5. johan Van Braeden says:

    That was an exciting item – the stroop test.
    I’m in for more info and such. Thanks!

  6. Crystal Hawk says:

    I had no trouble listening to the first lecture last Wednesday. But not possible today. What went wrong???

    • Alfi says:

      Hi BettyAnn! Guava jelly must be one of my favorite jeelils ever! :) Hope you weathered the storm well!Hi Jen! I actually also love reading people’s lists too :) As much as I enjoy putting them together! I am with you on the pig ;)Hi Fork and Whisk! Peanut butter and jealousy…what a cool name for a sandwich!

    • Nazim says:

      Hi Ling! Thanks!! Hooray for Benefit and Soap & Glory! Ooooh… and pannekoek! :)Hi Rosa! Branston pkclie! Have heard so much about it from my British friends but have yet to try it :)Hi Vijitha! Thanks :)Hi Eileen! Thanks! I love sandwiches too :)Hi Cath! Mango jam!! Another favorite :) I love it with melted gruyere!Hi Nadia! Those sound delicious! Must incorporate avocado more into my sandwiches…Hi Midge! Stroop is indeed the perfect sweet component for bacon :) Although yes, maple syrup is fantastic as well!Hi Krizia! Thanks for stopping by! That combination sounds so yummy!Hi Betty q! That sandwich sounds awesome!! Definitely taking note of that for the future :)Hi Jeannie! Bacon works really well with a sweet element :)Hi Dianne! That sounds yummy! Time to whip out the panini press!Hi Abigail! Hope you like it!Hi Simone! When I discovered stroop I wanted to use it on *everything*! Heehee :)

  7. don vernine says:

    3 comments.

    The Buddha said, “No self; no problem”

    “Forgiveness is for me to let go of thoughts & pictures in MY mind that cause me to suffer…having nothing to do with ‘somebody done somebody wrong song'”.

    I am color-blind & would probably not do so very well with the Stroop task…..oh well!

  8. Ahviva says:

    Although interesting, taken out of context this type of information can be very dangerous because it might promote indoctrination. Consider the study that looks at the TYPE of belief we might have in God and the link to anxiety/stress. “Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have found that those who believe in a benevolent God tend to worry less and be more tolerant of life’s uncertainties than those who believe in an indifferent or punishing God” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110805083022.htm

    This question is much more complex than just tying reduction in anxiety to a belief in God. Religiosity and spirituality are two different things to begin with. Further, is belief in God the only and necessary tool/way to decrease anxiety dealing with the ever-changing world? What about those following Vipassana tradition, which is inherently atheistic? We know that those practising meditation (but NOT necessarily believing in God) are doing much better than the general population when it comes to coping with stress.

    I think, Ruth, the series would benefit from defining and teasing apart the notions of spirituality and religiosity. Right now, they seem to be one and the same as I see it presented, which takes away from the usefulness of the discussions.

  9. Dawn Baker says:

    My usual comment is on the poor quality of the study and then what you could draw from it. I may react the same way to ‘God’ as it was part of my childhood, however not part of my adult thinking. I may also react to ‘coca cola’ as it meant something. However, as a psychologist, I use other frameworks to help people in whatever way they are stuck. Same running comment that many psychological phenomena such as ‘forgiveness’ have been taken over by ‘spiritual’ groups.

  10. Libby Oyler says:

    That research makes a lot of sense. I have seen more spiritual people be more gentle with themselves when they make mistakes.

    I look forward to the spirituality series.

    • Akram says:

      Mine is a cheese scdawinh recipe by Martha Stewart. Slather both sides of the white bread with butter, put sliced swiss cheese, and toast using cast iron pan. Really yummy! Did you make that guava jelly? *envious look*

  11. Alice Wekley says:

    Unfortunately, over the years I have found clients who are unforgiving of themselves, have very low opinions of themselves and/or appear riddled with guilt because of their religious upbringing. I would like to know how the researchers controlled for the different belief systems in “religion.” Were they looking at “believers” of an avenging God? . . . a loving God? Did they lump all “believers” in one category?

  12. CARMELA says:

    SORRY FOR THE MISTAKE ABOVE:

    THE BELIEF IN G-D IS THE BASIS TO ALL EMOTIONAL BALANCE
    AND NOT TO EMOTIONAL IMBALANCE AS APPEARS ABOVE
    ACCEPT MY APPOLOGY

    CARMELA

  13. CARMELA says:

    HI
    I WISH A JEWISH CHASSIDIC (CHABAD) TERAPHYST WOULD HAVE BEEN ONE OF YOUR PANELISTS,
    TO EXPLAIN THIS PROFOUND SUBJECT, ON THE GROUNDS OF THE JEWISH MYSTICISM – THE KABBALAH,AND THE CHASSIDIC MOVEMENT, HOW FAITH, THE BELIEF IN G-D IS THE BASIS TO ALL EMOTIONAL IMBALANCE, USING THE 9 STEPS TO THE RECOVERY OF ONE’S SOUL, ESTABLISHED BY THE BA’AL SHEM TOV, WHO ESTABLISHED THE CHASSIDIC MOVEMENT 250 YEARS AGO, PARALLELED WITH THE 10 KABBALISTIC SPHERES.
    THE PREMISE IS THAT THE SOUL’S VERY FIRST TRAUMA, IS THE SEPARATION FROM G-D, AT BIRTH, THE ROOT FROM WHICH OTHER EMOTIONAL-MENTAL IMBALANCES DERIVE: THE DISCONNECT FROM G-D THAT SEVERS ONE’S LIFE, WITHOUT HAVING THE AWARENESS OF THIS CAUSE, WITHOUT EVER BEING A ”RELIGIOUSE” PERSON….
    THE RECONNECTION TO G-D IS THE BASIS TO ALL CURES, MENTAL-EMOTIONAL AS WELL AS PHYSICAL (WE KNOW THE PHYSICAL IS ONLY A SYMPTOM OF THE MENTAL…)

    LOOK UP:
    teachings by Rav Yitzchok Ginsburgh http://WWW.INNER.ORG
    GAL EINAI PUBLICATION AND WEB BOOK STORE
    MALCHUTI

    About The Rotenberg Center for Jewish Psychology | BOAZ …
    http://www.jewishpsychology.org/about1_e.php
    The Rotenberg Center for Jewish Psychology was established to promote the dissemination of the Jewish Psychology model as a powerful therapeutic tool and …

    Torat HaNefesh – Pnimiyut Seminary

    http://www.pnimiyut.com/torat-hanefesh.html

    Torat Ha Nefesh – Jewish Psychology. Rabbi Moshe Genuth. Picture. Based on the Tanya, other classic Chassidic texts and the work of Harav Yitzchak …

    Torah Mystical Psychology

    http://www.jewishmag.com/18mag/wexler/wexler.htm

    The knowledge of the soul is called Torat HaNefesh. It is not Kaballah but it is interwoven within Kaballah. Mental illness more than physical illness affects the

    RAV YICHOK GINSBURG, BORN IN THE USA, RESIDES IN ISRAEL, CAN BE INTERVIEWED
    IF IT IS OF INTEREST FOR YOU. HE HAD WRITTEN MANY TENS OF BOOKS AND IS THE PRESIDENT
    OF A SCHOOL THAT TEACHES AND TRANES TO BE TERAPHYSTS USING THE BA’AL SHEM TOV’S
    JEWISH KABBALISTIC- CHASSIDIC METHOD.

    CARMELA

  14. kathy foulise says:

    Very Interesting! I would love to take the test!

    • Nick says:

      It would be interesting to see how #2 is hnladed on your site.I am presently spending some time on poetry sites. Poetry sites are incredibly different from Philosophy sites where people discuss ideas and try to avoid identifying with an idea and taking criticisms of ideas as personal.On poetry blogs, comments are only supportive, sweet, complimentary and such. And indeed, such support helps people to keep writing their poetry. However, what it lacks is challenges to self-destructive thinking, poor writing and much more. Without challenges, people continue naively thinking everything is good.It is a delicate balance between being supportive and challenging. And sometimes it takes different people to do those things. To expect critical support or supportive criticism out of the same person is sometimes unreasonable.Moderation must be tough unless the goal is feel goodism , which I am sure it isn’t.

  15. Shams says:

    I am not sure that this adequately explains the behavior of the fundamentalist crusaders who appear to react from a state of conviction that exhibits just the opposite, far less than a capacity to deal with the uncertainty of their positions. While I am a practitioner of various “spiritual” disciplines, I am also leery of the issue of the existence of GOD, etc. Call me agnostic, call me atheist, but from my position, when you undertake certain operations, certain results follow. It is up to the individual student or practitioner to determine whether such results are valid. The need for the constructs of various religions and/or debates about the existence of a “GOD” seem moot points. But I will read the attached article to see if this changes my initial position.

  16. This is an excellent article on stroop, ACC and the question of whether God affects the brain! Since God created the brain, every research study I’ve read ends up proving how the brain is impacted positively by spirituality. I’ve been studying the brain and spirituality at the university level since I was a highschool girl. It is great that we are still continuing to learn new things about the brain and it’s neuroplasticity. Thanking you for adding to my knowledge bank.

  17. Jayden Raye says:

    The belief in god is not what produces the anxiolytic effect for people, it is the relinquishing of control, (the primary cause of anxiety) which has this effect. As an Atheist I have no Anxiety in my life, simply due the fact that I do not have the belief “TOTAL control and prevention is possible”. I accept and appreciate all life experiences have a benefit and will help me to grow, this alleviates my need to have control and reduces reactivity in the ACC. My level of certainty about life going exactly as it is supposed to for me does not come from a religious or spiritual belief, it comes from the understanding of cause and effect. I have worked with hundreds of clients suffering from Depression and Anxiety, with the vast majority having strong spiritual and religious beliefs. It is only after I have helped them to understand Reality do they start to move out of their psychological stress and begin to feel a deep sense of peace in their lives.

    • DOROTHY CHAMBERS says:

      I’D LIKE TO LEARN MORE FROM YOU. HAVE YOU ANY ARTICLES PUBLISHED?
      i HAVE AND DO NOT CLAIM TO BE CLEAR OF ALL CONTROL ISSUES. MY E-MAIL IS
      DFCHAM@SKY.COM

      • Jayden Raye says:

        Hi Dorothy. I have put a couple of posts on FB and LinkedIn but I don’t specifically publish articles. I would love to teach you more about how to live a relatively stress free life. Send me an email ar soulgrowth@gmail.com. Thanks Jayden

  18. sybil says:

    Interesting concept. I look forward to your series. People with diabetes have to make decisions on management of their disease every day and are always worried about doing something wrong. It would be interesting to see if spirituality would lower their anxiety as well as the number of errors. I encourage them to use their blood sugar readings as feedback to learn how to improve their behavior ie diet, exercise but they often become emotionally attached to the numbers.

  19. Angela Owens says:

    Wanting to learn more

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