Gambling Has The Same Effect On Your Brain As Religion, Says Study

That spiritual feeling you get when you place a bet might not be Lady Luck after all. According to a recent study conducted by researchers ad the University of Utah, gambling has the same effect on your brain as religion and spiritual experiences.

Researchers used MRI scans to find out what happens in the brains of deeply religious individuals when they are reading religious texts. They scanned the brains of 19 Mormons, paying particular attention to the moment the participants reported feeling “close to the spirit.”

What they found was an increased amount of brain activity in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This area is associated with reward processing and is related to the experience of romantic feelings, pleasure, and gambling.

Senior author of the study Jeffrey S. Anderson told ResearchGate that the connection the participants experienced between the religious practice and the brain’s reward circuits suggests that religious training may be a form of classical conditioning. Sometimes called Pavlovian conditioning, he said it may explain the attachment they have to religious leaders and ideals.

“Association of positive feedback, music and social rewards with religious beliefs or doctrines may lead to these doctrines becoming intrinsically rewarding,” Said Anderson.

In addition to the nucleus accumbens, the participants brains also showed activity in the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is related to their perception of importance or novelty. Anderson suggested that non-religious people may experience similar brain activity in both areas in response to patriotic imagery, romantic love, or winning at gambling.

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