Twelve Quotes on Prayer and Its Effect on Well-Being
Neurotheology, the study of neurological responses to religious experiences, is a relatively new science. Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Newberg, is considered the founder of neurotheology and has studied this topic since the 1990s.
Newberg's research shows that various parts of the brain are affected in different ways by prayer and other religious rituals. Dr. Richard Sloan (psychiatrist) argues that the brain changes when anything happens: “There’s nothing special about showing brain changes when people pray.” Sloan’s comment may dishearten those who expect changes in the brain to result in healing for the body.
But what if prayers result in other positive health benefits besides physical cures? Is it possible for prayers to improve general well-being?
Areas of the Brain Affected by Prayer
Explanations by Dr. Andrew Newberg
- The frontal lobe is activated by prayer and focused attention. This area shrinks with age, but if prayer is done on a regular basis, it may slow the age-related decline of the frontal lobe.
- In the parietal lobe, people establish a sense of self and separation from others. Prayer diminishes that feeling, enabling them to feel connected.
- Prayer increases activity in the anterior cingulate just behind the frontal lobe, which is affected when we empathize with others.
- The limbic system (which includes the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, septal area, and cingulate cortex) becomes activated when we feel anger, resentment, and other destructive or pessimistic emotions. Prayer can prevent negative emotions in the limbic system from becoming activated.
This content was extracted from a MindHealth interview with Dr. Newberg.
Changes Resulting in General Well-Being
The following quotes register opinions of scientists and conclusions of scientific data (published in scientific journals) which affirm brain changes resulting from prayer. Prayer produces changes in thoughts and emotions which results in improved well-being.
From Individual Scientists
1. Praying involves the deeper parts of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex—the mid-front and back portions. These parts of the brain are involved in self-reflection and self-soothing. (Dr. David Spiegel, psychiatrist).
2. Prayer and meditation are highly effective in lowering our reactivity to traumatic and negative events. They are powerful because they focus our thoughts on something outside ourselves. (Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, clinical and consulting psychotherapist)
3. When we sit down and engage in prayer or meditation, we are able to shift away from this frightened and stressed survival mode into "an intentional state" and ultimately “reengage our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that rules our executive functioning and enables us to make intelligent mindful decisions." (Ibid.)
4. Even though toxic thought causes brain damage, prayer can reverse that damage and cause the brain and body to thrive. (Megan Kelly, Nutrition Practitioner)
5. It has been found that 12 minutes of daily focused prayer over an 8 week period can change the brain to such an extent that it can be measured on a brain scan. This type of prayer increases activity in brain areas associated with social interaction compassion and sensitivity to others. (Dr. Caroline Leaf, Christian neuroscientist)
6. Oxytocin . . . (gives) a good feeling despite living in a world of threat . . . so when a situation comes up and you're out of ideas and you are helpless, feeling much like you did when you were a baby, prayer can provide some other source of hope. (Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning, author Habits of a Happy Brain)
7. One of the purposes of prayer and meditation is to regain our footing so that we can step out into the world and take positive action: we reconnect, re-center, recharge and gain the strength necessary to take steps that will create real change. In other words, prayer is the fuel that lights the fire of action. (Dr. Paul Hokemeyer)
From Scientific Journals
8. Prayer affects regions of the brain that improve self-control, and people who view their goals as sacred put more effort and energy into attaining them. (Psychological Bulletin)
9. Praying in an online support group helped breast cancer patients experience less stress, have lower levels of negative emotions, and experience well-being. (PsychoOncology)
10. Prayers help victims of abusive relationships to recover a positive view of themselves and reduce emotional pain. (Social Psychology Quarterly)
11. Prayer increases gratitude which, in turn, reduces the negative impact of financial difficulties. (International Journal for the Psychology of Religion)
The Faith Factor
Newberg stresses that there is a faith factor that causes prayer to effect any positive changes in believers. The concluding quote explains it.
12. As far as we know, it [prayer] is not a cure for cancer. It is not going to cure somebody of heart disease. We can’t tell people to pray in order to get better—that doesn’t really make sense. The reason that it works is because it is part of the person’s belief system. (Andrew Newberg)
Prayer Habit Poll
How would you describe your prayer habit?
© 2018 Dora Weithers