Religious Chanting Arouses Positive Emotions to Counterbalance Fear

December 12, 2020

Religious chanting and praying arouse positive emotions of peace and reassurance to counterbalance fear and pain.

A group of scientists have documented in a new study that repetitive Religious chanting/praying helps to cope with stress and negative emotions, and to reinterpret the emotional significance of pain, making it easier to detach from it and let go. Study shows that repetitive religious chanting may induce strong brain activity, especially in response to negative stimuli, and suggest that helps to form a positive schema to counterbalance negative emotions, cultivate a profound sense of peace and reassurance, and evoke feelings of awe.

In a paper published on November 24, 2020 and entitled, “Repetitive Religious Chanting Invokes Positive Emotional Schema to Counterbalance Fear: A Multi-Modal Functional and Structural MRI Study”, scientists investigated the psychological benefits of religious activity from a neuroscientific approach, and aimed to clarify the neural mechanism underlying the effectiveness of religious chanting for emotion regulation.

Study says: “During hard times, Religious Chanting/praying is widely practiced to cope with negative or stressful emotions. … Religious Chanting and praying has existed throughout the history of the civilization of humankind, in both Eastern and Western societies and in ancient and modern times. Despite its universal popularity, very few studies have ever attempted to explore the underlying neural mechanism. Religious activities are generally not regarded as rational or logical, from a scientific point of view. … The present study can help to explain the positive effects of religious practices from a neuroscientific perspective.”

“One practical approach is to investigate the psychological benefits of religious practices to understand how religious activities might help individuals to confront hardship. We propose that the foremost potential application of Religious Chanting could be in alleviating the symptoms of affective distress because various religious activities are associated with existential and emotional thinking, rather than with rationality and formal reasoning. Thus the neural correlates of Religious Chanting may be associated with affective processes and corresponding structural brain changes”.

Scientists explain that “all participants had at least 1 year of experience in Religious Chanting. The participants were asked to view neutral/fearful pictures while practicing Religious Chanting, Non-Religious Chanting, or No Chanting. … MRI (Magnetic Reasonace Imaging) scanner was used to collect the data. … Compared to Non-Religious Chanting and No Chanting, higher brain activity was observed in several brain regions when participants performed Religious Chanting. … The present study shows that religious activity affects brain regions involved in affective processing. It demonstrates that compared with either Non-Religious Chanting or No Chanting, Religious Chanting results in stronger engagement of subcortical regions in experienced participants and in asymmetric activation of the amygdalae. These patterns are particularly noticeable when participants are confronted with fearful events of negative valence.”

“In summary, our multi-modal functional and structural MRI data suggest that repetitive Religious Chanting can influence the brain both functionally and structurally. Functionally, Religious Chanting activates a wide network of brain regions, including the amygdala and midbrain, as well as the frontal and occipital areas. This brain network may enable the formation of religious schemas associated strongly with positive emotion. With long-term practice, the brain may undergo asymmetric structural changes in the subcortical regions of thalamus, putamen, caudate, amygdala, and hippocampus, as well as in the temporal and precentral gyri, as evidenced by the present study.”

“Overall, the present study elucidates neural mechanisms in support of the position that Religious Chanting can provide a powerful and unique method for emotion regulation. Religious Chanting appears to modulate emotion by directly engaging key subcortical areas, including the amygdala, as well as neocortical areas, to sustain and prolong a positive emotional state; thereby counterbalancing the impact of negative events. The tentative interpretations offered here open up experimental avenues for investigating the therapeutic efficacy of Religious Chanting in alleviating the symptoms of emotional distress.”

Full Study “Repetitive Religious Chanting Invokes Positive Emotional Schema to Counterbalance Fear: A Multi-Modal Functional and Structural MRI Study”