Religion & the Social Brain
Can rituals bring us closer together? The ‘Religion and the Social Brain’ project was run with colleagues at Coventry University and collaborators from the University of Oxford and Cambridge, including evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar. The project investigates the biological, psychological and social processes that facilitate social bonding in religion. The Coventry team led a series of lab studies and fieldwork across churches and temples in the UK and Brazil. We have shown that rituals increased social bonding and positive affect, and that this effect was driven by so-called mu-opioids, a type of brain chemicals that is known to also give ‘runner’s high’. Through another study, we showed that positive affect also supported social bonding in secular rituals of Sunday Assembly.
Psychedelics & narcissism
Can the use of serotonergic psychedelic drugs bring us closer together? Our research on psychedelic drug use shows that those who had an awe-inspiring, impressive, significant, or emotionally intense experience during a psychedelic ‘trip’, showed greater feelings of connectedness and empathy within the five years following it, which in turn were associated with lower levels of maladaptive narcissism personality features.
Childbirth & identity fusion
Can dysphoric or even traumatic experiences bring us closer together? Our research suggests that knowing that others out there have endured very similar experiences to ourselves – as difficult, as painful – can bond people together. Much like soldiers at the frontline, mothers who had a difficult childbirth felt strongly bonded to other mothers with a similarly difficult birth, and this predicted levels of post-traumatic growth, afterwards.