The MRI scan of Auriel Brunsvik Peterson’s brain, taken during a religious experience, was lit up like a Christmas tree.

Peterson, 29, has been a devout Mormon her entire life. But seeing that image was the first time her belief was more than abstract.

“I finally have a small shred of physical evidence … that I am feeling something and I’m not crazy,” she said. It showed that “you are experiencing something euphoric and life changing and … something special and something different.”

The study — published Tuesday in Social Neuroscience — found that the reward center of the brain, known as the nucleus accumbens, lights up when Mormon missionaries “feel the spirit.”

“When we looked at the images, we were really surprised by how consistently we were able to see the same network of brain regions that were active when [participants] reported peak spiritual feelings,” said Jeffrey Anderson, a U. neuroscientist who led the study.

Participants had to be 20- to 30-year-old returned Mormon missionaries who were active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While in the MRI machine, participants were shown clips of spiritually evocative, LDS Church-produced videos and were allowed time to read scriptures and pray.

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