October 5, 2008

EEG activity in Carmelite nuns during a mystical experience

EEG,mystical experience — alice @ 5:20 am

In a recent article, Beauregard and Paquette examined EEG spectral power and coherence in 14 Carmelite nuns during a mystical experience, which is characterized by a sense of union with God and is reported across all cultures.

EEG data were recorded for three conditions: Mystical, Control and Baseline. During the Mystical conditions, the nuns were asked to remember and relive the most intense mystical experience felt in their lives as a member of the Carmelite Order. In the Control condition, the nuns were instructed to remember and relive the most intense state of union with another human ever felt in their lives while being affiliated with the Carmelite Order. The Baseline condition was a normal restful state.

The phenomenological data that were collected indicate that the nuns actually experienced genuine mystical experiences, instead of vivid memories of a mystical state, during the Mystical condition. The experiences reported during this condition were multidimensional, implicating changes in perception (e.g., visual mental imagery), cognition (e.g., representations about the self), and emotion (e.g., peace, joy, and unconditional love).

In the Mystical, compared to Control, condition, greater theta power was observed over the left and central fronto-parietal region, whereas greater gamma1 power was observed over the right temporal and parietal regions. Additionally, greater coherence for the theta and alpha bands were displayed over different pairs of electrodes

Beauregard and Paquette concluded that the results of this study demonstrate that mystical experiences are mediated by marked changes in EEG power and coherence and that these changes implicate several cortical areas of the brain in both hemispheres.

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