Study Finds Two Psychological Factors That Shape Our Spiritual Experiences

Study finds 2 psychological factors influence supernatural encounters

Have you ever wondered why some people claim to have encounters with supernatural beings while others don’t? Well, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shed light on this intriguing phenomenon.

The study, conducted across five countries and involving over 2,000 participants, identified two key psychological factors that influence people’s perception of spiritual presence: porosity and absorption. Porosity refers to how much individuals view their mind and the outside world as permeable, while absorption refers to how engrossed they become in sensory experiences.

According to co-author Tanya Luhrmann, a medical and psychological anthropologist at Stanford University, “What we experience is shaped by how we pay attention.” In other words, our pattern of attention affects what we perceive as real.

While the study doesn’t address whether supernatural entities truly exist, it does highlight the role of cultural perceptions in shaping our beliefs. The researchers found that cultural context influences the propensity for porosity and absorption, which, in turn, impact the likelihood of having vivid experiences with gods or spirits.

“Our experiences are always being filtered through our minds, and by extension, through our cultures,” explains study co-author Kara Weisman, a psychology researcher at Stanford University.

These spiritual experiences are more common than we might think. In fact, a 2009 poll revealed that 49 percent of Americans reported having at least one spiritual experience in their lifetime. These experiences are not limited to religious individuals; they occur across various cultures and faiths.

To better understand the factors driving these encounters, the researchers conducted four studies involving participants from different countries and religious backgrounds. They found that both porosity and absorption consistently predicted spiritual presence events across cultures and religions.

Interestingly, participants from more secular settings reported fewer spiritual presence events compared to those from less secular contexts. Charismatic evangelical Christians from all countries also reported higher frequencies of divine encounters.

The researchers also discovered that porosity and absorption shape how individuals interpret and engage with their internal experiences. They make these experiences feel more vivid, material, and potent, potentially increasing the likelihood of perceiving a divine presence.

It’s important to note that neither porosity nor absorption is synonymous with religion. Instead, they play a role in how religions are constructed and experienced.

The study provides valuable insights into the nature of spiritual experiences and the impact of cultural influences on our perception of the supernatural. While scientists still have much to learn, this research demonstrates that it is possible to explore and understand the realm of the divine through the lens of psychology.

In conclusion, these findings invite us to consider the complex interplay between our minds, cultures, and the spiritual dimensions we encounter. As Tanya Luhrmann aptly puts it, “These are human experiences, whether or not they tell us about ultimate reality.”