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Comparative Study
. 2003 Nov;160(11):1965-9.
doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.160.11.1965.

The Serotonin System and Spiritual Experiences

Comparative Study

The Serotonin System and Spiritual Experiences

Jacqueline Borg et al. Am J Psychiatry. .


Objective: The serotonin system has long been of interest in biological models of human personality. The purpose of this positron emission tomography (PET) study was to search for relationships between serotonin 5-HT(1A) receptor density and personality traits.

Method: Fifteen normal male subjects, ages 20-45 years, were examined with PET and the radioligand [(11)C]WAY100635. Personality traits were assessed with the Swedish version of the Temperament and Character Inventory self-report questionnaire. Binding potential, an index for the density of available 5-HT(1A) receptors, was calculated for the dorsal raphe nuclei, the hippocampal formation, and the neocortex. For each region, correlation coefficients between 5-HT(1A) receptor binding potential and Temperament and Character Inventory personality dimensions were calculated and analyzed in two-tailed tests for significance.

Results: The authors found that the binding potential correlated inversely with scores for self-transcendence, a personality trait covering religious behavior and attitudes. No correlations were found for any of the other six Temperament and Character Inventory dimensions. The self-transcendence dimension consists of three distinct subscales, and further analysis showed that the subscale for spiritual acceptance correlated significantly with binding potential but not with the other two subscales.

Conclusions: This finding in normal male subjects indicated that the serotonin system may serve as a biological basis for spiritual experiences. The authors speculated that the several-fold variability in 5-HT(1A) receptor density may explain why people vary greatly in spiritual zeal.

Comment in

  • Religion, spirituality, and mysticism.
    Hall DE, Catanzaro AM, Harrison MO, Koenig HG. Hall DE, et al. Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Sep;161(9):1720-1; author reply 1721. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.9.1720. Am J Psychiatry. 2004. PMID: 15337676 No abstract available.

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