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Religion may affect brain changes


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#1    Karlis

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 06:40 AM

www.smh.com.au said:

Study asked 268 people aged 58 to 84 about their religious group, spiritual practices and life-changing religious experiences. Protestants who did not identify themselves as born-again were found to have less atrophy in the hippocampus region than did born-again Protestants, Catholics or those with no religious affiliation.Participants who said they had undergone a religious experience were found to have more atrophy than those who did not. Posted Image Read more...



#2    Habitat

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 06:55 AM

268 people is a low sample size for just about any kind of study, and I'd suspect any 268 drawn at random from the wider population wouldn't produce many proclaiming themselves "born again". Sounds dodgy to me.


#3    Karlis

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:08 AM

Here is an excerpt from a more detailed article:

~~~ ... "Several studies have found that, for many people, belonging to a  religious group seems to be related to better health in later life, but  not all religious people experience the same benefits. This study may  help us to understand some of the reasons for those differences,"  Hayward said.

While this stress may be a plausible interpretation of the findings  of this study, the authors caution that not enough detail is known about  the mechanics of how stress affects brain atrophy.

This study is among the first to examine religious and spiritual  links to changes in volume of specific areas in the brain, and is the  first to explore religious factors such as life-changing religious  experiences {My emphasis ...Karlis}.

Rather than suggesting that particular religious  experiences or groups should be avoided or promoted, the emphasis of  this study was to help clarify possible relationships between religion  and the brain.

Learning which factors are associated with hippocampal atrophy is  valuable, as previous research has established that smaller hippocampal  volumes are related to health outcomes such as depression, dementia, and  Alzheimer's disease in older adulthood. ~~~ ...
Source


#4    Habitat

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:38 AM

The researchers found that Protestants who did not identify themselves as born-again had less atrophy in the hippocampus region than did born-again Protestants, Catholics, or those having no religious affiliation

So the declared born-agains had atrophy, as did the people with no religious affiliation, not making any sense to me, other than indicative of normal statistical variation. Did the peer reviewers have brain fade or what ?


#5    Karlis

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:42 AM

>This is the source to the full report of the study, "Religious Factors and Hippocampal Atrophy in Late Life" published by PLoS ONE.

Excerpted from the Abstract:
... hippocampal volume change using high-resolution MRI data of a sample  of 268 older adults. ... Hippocampal volumes were analyzed using the GRID program, which is based  on a manual point-counting method and allows for semi-automated  determination of region of interest volumes. ... The findings of this study indicate that hippocampal atrophy in late  life may be uniquely influenced by certain types of religious factors..



The full research article, including discussion comments, is at this PLoS ONE > Source

Thoughts and comments?
Karlis


#6    Karlis

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:48 AM

View PostHabitat, on 23 May 2011 - 07:38 AM, said:

The researchers found that Protestants who did not identify themselves as born-again had less atrophy in the hippocampus region than did born-again Protestants, Catholics, or those having no religious affiliation

So the declared born-agains had atrophy, as did the people with no religious affiliation, not making any sense to me, other than indicative of normal statistical variation. Did the peer reviewers have brain fade or what ?
Habitat, I think you may be mis-reading what is written.


#7    Habitat

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 07:54 AM

On a spectrum of "religiosity" surely the "born agains" are at the opposite end to those with "no religious affiliation", yet unless I read it wrong, it is the Protestant non-born againers with the least atrophy ? That doesn't fit the theory very well, IMO.  :blink:


#8    addicted2011

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 11:24 AM

I think it can cause madness - there are a few people I have known that have ended up dead due to the madness of not being accepted in religion and its doctrines - sad state of affairs - but on a more mild cases cause depression, and all sorts of paranoia disorders


#9    marcos anthony toledo

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 11:51 AM

It looks like even habut why shouldve a strongh religious won't save you from mental decline but why should non believers have the same problem I don't get it. :cat:


#10    Wolvenblood

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 01:44 PM

I have a feeling this is going to lead to "_________ are smarter than ___________" arguments


#11    Copasetic

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 02:30 PM

The authors don't postulate the hippocampal  atrophy protection is from religion itself, rather from being a part of "group majority". So "non-religious" and "born-again" are both minority demographics in the areas surveyed. From the article;

Quote

These findings may reflect potential cumulative stress associated with being a member of a religious minority. Though
religious factors have been associated with positive mental health [59,76,77], studies have shown members of religious minority groups may also experience stressors related to these group affiliations [78,79,80]. Greater hippocampal atrophy was also found to be longitudinally associated with reported life-changing religious experiences.

You could argue that in the US, Catholics should have the same protective effect as "non-born-again, Protestants", but the sampling was skewed to a geographic area where the majority are non-born again protestants. From the article;

Quote

Limitations include the geographically and religiously constrained nature of the sample (largely Southeastern
Protestant Christians),

As in the above quote and this one;

Quote

The current study did not find an association between change in hippocampal volume and frequency of spiritual activities, possibly reflecting the potential of varying spiritual practices to affect neuroanatomy differently.

The study doesn't actually support that "religious experience" or "spiritual experience" offers any kind of protective effect. What the study supports is that being part of the "in" social crowd is good for the brain. That isn't really shocking, we are incredibly social animals and whether we admit or not, feeling in the "in crowd" plays major roles on important hormone levels; like cortisol. "Religion may affect brain changes" isn't really an accurate description of what the study found. As this is really about group and social dynamics.

Edited by Copasetic, 23 May 2011 - 02:33 PM.


#12    Paracelse

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 03:58 PM

Being excommunicated should be good then.. I should be able to enjoy few more years of brain functions.

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#13    marharthm

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 06:01 PM

Just to point something out, this was done on a older age group.

It should of been done on a younger age group to have more accurate results.


#14    Copasetic

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 06:25 PM

View Postmarharthm, on 23 May 2011 - 06:01 PM, said:

Just to point something out, this was done on a older age group.

It should of been done on a younger age group to have more accurate results.


Negative Chief.

The study was done on the protective effects against hippocampal atrophy (shrinking). The hippocampus shrinks with age in all people, but factors make atrophy happen more rapidly in some than in others. Things like stress play a large role in the atrophy and non-atrophy of the neuraxis. This is because we have lots of hormones that interact throughout our body that reflect the state of stress (mental and physical) we are under.

The point of the study was to look at how atrophy of the hippocampus varies in aging adults, as it is know the hippocampus can play a major role in things like depression, Alzheimer's, non-Alzheimer's dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.  That role is a progressive, accumulated atrophy--In other words we're talking about chronic manifestations of physiological alterations.

In young people, the hippocampus should be "full and plump" as the cumulative effects of a lifetime of stress should not be causing atrophy. Hippocampal atrophy in the young is from acute manifestations of disease, like physical trauma, infection, etc.

The title of the study, and how it is being picked up by some to advocate their religion in the blogsphere is misleading though. This really isn't about the protective effects of religion, its about the protective effects of social group and social group status. It isn't really saying anything we don't already know, that the lower social status you are (or social group status) the greater (on average) affect stress has on atrophy of some areas of your brain.

Edited by Copasetic, 23 May 2011 - 06:26 PM.


#15    DieChecker

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 10:49 PM

View PostHabitat, on 23 May 2011 - 07:38 AM, said:

So the declared born-agains had atrophy, as did the people with no religious affiliation, not making any sense to me, other than indicative of normal statistical variation. Did the peer reviewers have brain fade or what ?

View PostHabitat, on 23 May 2011 - 07:54 AM, said:

On a spectrum of "religiosity" surely the "born agains" are at the opposite end to those with "no religious affiliation", yet unless I read it wrong, it is the Protestant non-born againers with the least atrophy ? That doesn't fit the theory very well, IMO.  :blink:
I really have to agree with these comments. Most "no religuous affiliation" people I know would claim to not be more stressed due to that status.

The article reads more like to me, the non-born-again protestants for some reason have less atrophy, not that they others have more.

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