Spiritual experiences are related to engagement of a ventral frontotemporal functional brain network: Implications for prevention and treatment of behavioral and substance addictions
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BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Spirituality is an important component of 12-step programs for behavioral and substance addictions and has been linked to recovery processes. Understanding the neural correlates of spiritual experiences may help to promote efforts to enhance recovery processes in behavioral addictions. We recently used general linear model (GLM) analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging data to examine neural correlates of spiritual experiences, with findings implicating cortical and subcortical brain regions. Although informative, the GLM-based approach does not provide insight into brain circuits that may underlie spiritual experiences. METHODS: Spatial independent component analysis (sICA) was used to identify functional brain networks specifically linked to spiritual (vs. stressful or neutral-relaxing) conditions using a previously validated guided imagery task in 27 young adults. RESULTS: Using sICA, engagement of a ventral frontotemporal network was identified that was engaged at the onset and conclusion of the spiritual condition in a manner distinct from engagement during the stress or neutral-relaxing conditions. Degree of engagement correlated with subjective reports of spirituality in the scanner (r = .71, p < .001) and an out-of-the-magnet measure of spirituality (r = .48, p < .018). DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION: The current findings suggest a distributed functional neural network associated with spiritual experiences and provide a foundation for investigating brain mechanisms underlying the role of spirituality in recovery from behavioral addictions.
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