Frontal alpha asymmetry during prayerful and resting states: An EEG study in Catholic sisters

Jeanne Barcelona*, Mariane Fahlman, Yulia Churakova, Robin Canjels, James Mallare, Marion I. Van Den Heuvel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Life expectancy in the US is 78.6 years, and although people are living longer, they are also living with chronic diseases. As women age, they are more susceptible to chronic disease including mental health conditions and Alzheimer's Disease (AD) dementia. Therefore, practical and cost effective ways to prevent the onset of cognitive, mental and physical ailments and increase the quality of life among aging populations is timely and warranted. The purpose of this study in aging adult women was to explore if prayer is associated with electrical brain activity patterns consistent with meditation and therefore a likely pro-health behavior.

Materials and methods
A sample of 33 healthy women (Mage = 80.1, SD = 8.3) were recruited from a Midwestern Catholic Sisters community. Participants completed 6 consecutive, counterbalanced electroencephalogram (EEG) sessions: three resting sessions and three praying sessions equating to 18 min of recorded EEG data for each participant. Differences in alpha power and frontal alpha asymmetry (FAA) between praying and resting conditions and the influence of age on the association between inter-individual differences in alpha power were explored.

Results indicated significant higher alpha power detected in electrodes positioned in the occipital area for praying sessions compared to resting sessions. Additionally, we found significant positive correlations between FAA values and age of the participants for both conditions (rest: r = 0.436, p = 0.016; pray: r = 0.434, p = 0.017), indicating more approach-related brain activity in older participants.

Taken collectively, our results suggest that prayerful meditation increased alpha power and that positive and approach-related (left frontal-central) brain activity increased as Sisters aged. Future studies should explore the mediating role of age as it relates to meditation and cognitive outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-15
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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