New research suggests that the feelings of social connection felt through collective ritual activities may have the same effect on the brain as opioids.
A study from Coventry University found that the positive feeling that ritual gives could be lessened by medicine usually used to treat opiate addiction.
It is the first solid evidence that receptors in the brain that are activated by drugs such as heroin are behind the surge of warmth felt through collective religious activity.
Sarah Charles, a PhD researcher who lead the study, said: “I found that a specific type of chemical released in the brain, mu-opioids, plays a key role in the formation of bonds and that this is likely a reason for how common religious rituals are in society.”
Similar to the high experienced during exercise, ritual “creates this feeling of pleasantness, of euphoria and social bonding.”
The research, published in Biology Letters, looked at churchgoers and yoga classes. A different study conducted by the researchers also found that church attendance increased pain thresholds and enhanced social bonding.