Monday, November 13, 2006

Imaging the brain during "speaking in tongues"

The charismatic practice of speaking with the full conviction that God is talking through you has ancient roots in many religious traditions, notably the Old and New Testaments. Its technical term is glossolalia. It is experienced as a normal and expected behavior in religious prayer groups in which the individual appears to be speaking in an incomprehensible language.

Newberg et al. at the University of Pennsylvania have now performed brain imaging on five women while they spoke in tongues (Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Volume 148, Issue 1 , 22 November 2006, Pages 67-71) They tracked changes in blood flow in each woman’s brain as she sang a gospel song and again while speaking in tongues.

An interesting difference was observed between these two emotional, devotional activities , described in a review by Carey, was that the "frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior."... "a co-author of the study, was also a research subject. She is a born-again Christian who says she considers the ability to speak in tongues a gift. “You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”

"The scans also showed a dip in the activity of the left caudate. .. the caudate is usually active when you have positive affect, pleasure, positive emotions, and is also involved in motor and emotional may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions."

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