Absorption and spiritual experience: A review of evidence and potential mechanisms

Conscious Cogn. 2019 Aug;73:102760. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2019.05.008. Epub 2019 Jun 19.


Some people seem to have a 'talent' for spiritual experience: they readily sense the presence of supernatural beings, receive special messages from God, and report intense feelings of self-transcendence, awe and wonder. Here we review converging strands of evidence to argue that the trait of 'absorption' captures a general proclivity for having spiritual experiences. Participants scoring highly on the Tellegen Absorption Scale report vivid experiences of hearing God's voice during prayer, intense mystical experiences in response to psychedelics or placebo brain-stimulation, and strong feelings of presence and transcendence when confronted with natural beauty, virtual reality, or music. Several mechanisms may help to explain the relationship between absorption and spiritual experience. We suggest that absorption captures an experiential mindset that intensifies inner and outer sensory experience in ways that reflect both prior expectation and novel sensory engagement. It seems to enable that which must be imagined to feel more real.

Keywords: Absorption; Agency; Hypnosis; Individual differences; Mental imagery; Mystical experiences; Prayer; Spiritual experiences; Visions; Voice hearing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hallucinations / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hypnosis*
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Religion*
  • Sensation / physiology*
  • Spirituality*