During times of fear, many people turn to religion and other spiritual practices for relief. History reveals that it is for this very same reason that we find a burst in “spiritual movements” before and after major wars and terrorist events. Recently, however, researchers at The Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University discovered changes in the dopamine and serotonin systems in the brains of retreat participants. This is a major affirmation by the scientific community that meditation does indeed affect our mental and emotional processes.
Participants of a study conducted by the Fetzer Institute, attended an Ignatian retreat based on the spiritual exercises developed by St. Ignatius Loyola. Subjects in the study were Christians ranging from the ages of 24 to 76, completed surveys which showed marked improvements in their perceived physical health, tension and fatigue after their participation in meditative practices. They also reported increased feelings of self-transcendence which correlated to the change in dopamine binding. Andrew Newberg, M.D., Director of Research in the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, stated:
“Since serotonin and dopamine are part of the reward and emotional systems of the brain, it helps us understand why these practices result in powerful, positive emotional experiences. Our study showed significant changes in dopamine and serotonin transporters after the seven-day retreat, which could help prime participants for the spiritual experiences that they reported.”
According to an article published by Science Daily on March 23rd 2017, we find:
“The post-retreat scans revealed decreases in dopamine transporter and serotonin transporter binding, which could make more of the neurotransmitters available to the brain. This is associated with positive emotions and spiritual feelings. In particular, dopamine is responsible for mediating cognition, emotion and movement, while serotonin is involved in emotional regulation and mood.”
- Andrew B. Newberg, Nancy Wintering, David B. Yaden, Li Zhong, Brendan Bowen, Noah Averick, Daniel A. Monti. Effect of a one-week spiritual retreat on dopamine and serotonin transporter binding: a preliminary study. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 2017; 1 DOI: 10.1080/2153599X.2016.1267035