© 2017 by Amsterdam Religion Cognition and Behavior Lab

Some people seem to have a 'talent' for spiritual experience: they frequently sense the presence of supernatural entities, receive special messages from God, and report intense feelings of self-transcendence, awe, and wonder. The personality trait of 'absorption' seems to capture this general proclivity. Participants scoring high on the Tellegen Absorption Scale—a questionnaire originally developed to measure hypnotic responsiveness—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 self-transcendence when confronted with natural beauty or music.  Absorption seems to enhance the impact of prior expectation on sensory perception and mental imagery. People high in absorption often experience quasi-sensory percepts in accordance with their beliefs and expectations, even in the absence of corresponding stimuli. Studies of spiritual disciplines, such as meditation and prayer, further suggest that absorption may be a trainable skill. Spiritual experience thus offers a promising model for examining how individual differences interact with expectation and training to shape fundamental processes of perception.