Of Serotonin and Spirituality

I found this interesting (you might not). While I’m deeply suspect of a laboratory measurement of “capacity for transcendence”, I think it is interesting if there is a biological correlation between religiosity/spirituality and serotonin. It makes sense that your brain chemistry would matter in your spiritual life, and it opens the door to a lot of fascinating questions. Are some people “wired” to be more religious? Can it be passed on genetically? Is it something that evolved in us uniquely, compared to other animals with complex brains?

The connection to psychotropics is also really interesting to me. There is definitely a subculture of people who take psychotropics and who also report all kinds of “spiritual” experiences while on them. I’ve done a little bit of research into this – with books and articles! don’t get ideas – and found it fascinating overall. If you’re interested in the…one might say neurological structure of religious experience, then its worth a look.

Of Serotonin and Spirituality
Scientists see a biological underpinning for religiosity, and it is related to the neurotransmitter serotonin.

By: PT Staff

Serotonin, the brain chemical crucial to mood and motivation, also shapes personality to make you susceptible to spiritual experiences. A team of Swedish researchers has found that the presence of a receptor that regulates general serotonin activity in the brain correlates with people’s capacity for transcendence, the ability to apprehend phenomena that cannot be explained objectively. Scientists have long suspected that serotonin influences spirituality because drugs known to alter serotonin such as LSD also induce mystical experiences. But now they have proof from brain scans linking the capacity for spirituality with a major biological element.

The concentration of serotonin receptors normally varies markedly among individuals. Those whose brain scans showed the most receptor activity proved on personality tests to have the strongest proclivity to spiritual acceptance.

Reporting in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers see the evidence as contradicting the common belief that religious behavior is determined strictly by environmental and cultural factors. They see a biological underpinning for religiosity, and it is related to the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Psychology Today Magazine, Nov/Dec 2003
Last Reviewed 8 Jul 2008

4 thoughts on “Of Serotonin and Spirituality

  1. The thing is, if you’ve been seriously ill for fifteen years, it seems to turn out that Serotonin is at tne root of practically everything.They seem to prescribe “Serotonin reuptake inhibitors” not only for what they were originally made for (I think…) – i.e., depression – but also for every poorly understood disease and medical condition that exists.If you’re lacking something and you don’t know what it is, chances are it’s Serotonin!Except that those meds did nothing for me, also not for many other people with poorly understood conditions from what I’ve heard talking to people.


  2. Thank you very much for the comment, Paul, and welcome to my blog! May you leave unscathed. 🙂I was on a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor for a couple of years, and it actually helped me begin to dig my way out from under lifelong depression. I obviously can’t say anything for its general usefulness, and I’ve seen it prescribed a great deal for some odd things, but it can have its intended effect. (Interestingly, it is apparently the first psychotropic drug which was rationally designed for its purpose, rather than discovered through testing)Serotonin is just one of a few chemical neurotransmitters we’ve identified – it does a lot of things in the brain, and we’re only just starting to understanding anything about how the brain functions on a specific level. Its just interesting, to me, to think about how our bodies, our brain chemistry and so on, influences our spirituality far more than a rationalistic view might want to admit. We’re not just consciousnesses floating in our bodies – we are our bodies, and are determined by them in more ways than I think its easy to think about.


  3. I was on SSRI drugs for 8 years as a treatment for depression, and only experienced an improvement on one of them for a few months.I wonder how the brain scientists explain the “capacity for transcendence” among those of us who have been clinically diagnosed with depression. If, in fact, our serotonin receptors aren’t functioning properly, how can our spirituality be so robust? I agree with Paul: it sounds like the scientists are trying to pin too much on serotonin.As far as neuroscience and spirituality go, I’m much more impressed with the presentation by Jill Bolte Taylor, as seen at the following link:http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.htmlAs one who has dabbled briefly in mysticism, Taylor’s presentation reminds me of the debate between the two views of union with distinction and union without distinction.In Christ,Mark


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