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STUDY: ‘BIOLOGICAL REALITY’ BEHIND THE EXPERIENCE Critics deride it as fake, but new research shows that something authentic happens in the brain when someone speaks in tongues.
In 2006, a University of Pennsylvania team headed by Andrew B. Newberg found that the frontal lobe area of the brain usually associated with language skills and willful control of the body slips into low gear when someone engages in this form of ecstatic prayer.
“Our findings are very consistent with what people say they are feeling,” Newberg says. “That they are not in charge of what is happening and are experiencing an intense sense of themselves in relation to God.”
Newberg, a neuroscientist and co-author of Why We Believe What We Believe, a book on the biology behind belief, used neuroimaging to track blood flow to the brain. The study’s subjects were five women from the same Pentecostal church. They were measured twice: as they sang a gospel song and as they spoke in tongues.
The scans found that when the subjects spoke, the frontal lobe showed less blood flow and lower activity than it did during the singing.
Newberg previously examined Buddhist monks in meditation and Catholic nuns in prayer. Their brain scans showed that the frontal lobe lit up with more activity the exact opposite of the tongue-speakers.
Still, Newberg cautions against using the study as proof that God speaks to people through tongues.
“It talks about the biological reality of the experience. It does not address whether there is a supernatural reality,” he says. “That question is still left open.”
– By Kimberly Winston, Special for USA TODAY