Neural correlates of mystical experience

Irene Cristofori, Joseph Bulbulia, John H. Shaver, Marc Wilson, Frank Krueger, Jordan Henry Grafman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Mystical experiences, or subjectively believed encounters with a supernatural world, are widely reported across cultures and throughout human history. Previous theories speculate that executive brain functions underpin mystical experiences. To evaluate causal hypotheses, structural studies of brain lesion are required. Previous studies suffer from small samples or do not have valid measures of cognitive functioning prior to injury. We investigated mystical experience among participants from the Vietnam Head Injury Study and compared those who suffered penetrating traumatic brain injury (pTBI; n=116) with matched healthy controls (HC; n=32). Voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping analysis showed that lesions to frontal and temporal brain regions were linked with greater mystical experiences. Such regions included the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and middle/superior temporal cortex (TC). In a confirmatory analysis, we grouped pTBI patients by lesion location and compared mysticism experiences with the HC group. The dlPFC group presented markedly increased mysticism. Notably, longitudinal analysis of pre-injury data (correlating with general intelligence and executive performance) excludes explanations from individual differences. Our findings support previous speculation linking executive brain functions to mystical experiences, and reveal that executive functioning (dlPFC) causally contributes to the down-regulation of mystical experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)212-220
Number of pages9
JournalNeuropsychologia
Volume80
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 8 2016

Fingerprint

Mysticism
Prefrontal Cortex
Executive Function
Brain
Temporal Lobe
Penetrating Head Injuries
Vietnam
Wounds and Injuries
Intelligence
Craniocerebral Trauma
Individuality
Down-Regulation
History

Keywords

  • Mystical experience
  • Penetrating traumatic brain injuries
  • Religious belief
  • Voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

Cite this

Cristofori, I., Bulbulia, J., Shaver, J. H., Wilson, M., Krueger, F., & Grafman, J. H. (2016). Neural correlates of mystical experience. Neuropsychologia, 80, 212-220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.11.021
Cristofori, Irene ; Bulbulia, Joseph ; Shaver, John H. ; Wilson, Marc ; Krueger, Frank ; Grafman, Jordan Henry. / Neural correlates of mystical experience. In: Neuropsychologia. 2016 ; Vol. 80. pp. 212-220.
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Cristofori, I, Bulbulia, J, Shaver, JH, Wilson, M, Krueger, F & Grafman, JH 2016, 'Neural correlates of mystical experience', Neuropsychologia, vol. 80, pp. 212-220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.11.021

Neural correlates of mystical experience. / Cristofori, Irene; Bulbulia, Joseph; Shaver, John H.; Wilson, Marc; Krueger, Frank; Grafman, Jordan Henry.

In: Neuropsychologia, Vol. 80, 08.01.2016, p. 212-220.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Cristofori I, Bulbulia J, Shaver JH, Wilson M, Krueger F, Grafman JH. Neural correlates of mystical experience. Neuropsychologia. 2016 Jan 8;80:212-220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.11.021