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Religion may affect brain changes


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#16    DieChecker

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Posted 23 May 2011 - 10:56 PM

View PostCopasetic, on 23 May 2011 - 02:30 PM, said:

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;
So the paper should be more properly called, "Religion induced stress may affect brain changes"??

I notice they don't seem to have excluded any other stressors in this short abstract/press release. Maybe simply Stress itself is what causes the increase atrophy, or rather a less stressful life may reduce the atrophy.

Quote

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;
Ah, so in England the same might apply to being Anglican, and in Italy - Catholic, and in Iran - Muslim, and in India - Hindu.

Quote

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.
Wasn't work done to determine if humans are hard wired for religion and needing something to believe in? Could it be that Atheists are actually living a less-healthy lifestyle?

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#17    Bildr

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 12:26 AM

View PostWolvenblood, on 23 May 2011 - 01:44 PM, said:

I have a feeling this is going to lead to "_________ are smarter than ___________" arguments
yeah -_- i just think that this article is a little pathetic, and lacks true information. Seems biased in my opinion.

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#18    Copasetic

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 02:17 AM

View PostDieChecker, on 23 May 2011 - 10:56 PM, said:

So the paper should be more properly called, "Religion induced stress may affect brain changes"??

Maybe, a better title would be about how the popularity of religious social group provides a protective factor against stress.

View PostDieChecker, on 23 May 2011 - 10:56 PM, said:

I notice they don't seem to have excluded any other stressors in this short abstract/press release. Maybe simply Stress itself is what causes the increase atrophy, or rather a less stressful life may reduce the atrophy.

Correct, it is a very sloppy and tentative result. If you note, they actually didn't do participant recruitment on their own;

Quote

Participants were 268 men and women aged 58 and over, recruited for the NeuroCognitive Outcomes of Depression in the
Elderly (NCODE) study. Details of recruitment for this ongoing longitudinal study are described elsewhere [38]. Participants
included two groups, those meeting DSM-IV [51] criteria for major depressive disorder and never-depressed comparison participants. Exclusion criteria included concurrent diagnosis of other psychiatric or neurological illness, significant cognitive impairment, and substance abuse. Requirements for inclusion in the non-depressed group were no evidence of a diagnosis of depression or self-report of neurological or depressive illness.

If you actually look up their source 38: Steffens DC, Byrum CE, McQuoid DR, Greenberg DL, Payne ME, et al. (2000)
Hippocampal volume in geriatric depression. Biol Psychiatry 48: 301–309.

The patient population isn't corrected for confounding variables for stress, as that wasn't the initial investigation of the sample population.

To be honest, this is pretty shoddy all around academic work and its the reason its published in PLoS one, which if you are familiar with scientific literature, you'd know that PloS one is kind of bottom of the heap in terms of respectability before you get to crack-pottery and phony journals.

To be honest, because I can be somewhat cynical sometimes, I suspect if you looked into it the primary authors of this paper are "non-born again" protestants and these guys are simply trying to catch the eye of Templeton. As bad as that sounds, but unfortunately (especially in open access journals like PloS One) that kind of stuff happens. You want big, good science, you got to go to big-time science journals in their respective fields.


View PostDieChecker, on 23 May 2011 - 10:56 PM, said:

Ah, so in England the same might apply to being Anglican, and in Italy - Catholic, and in Iran - Muslim, and in India - Hindu.

Yes, exactly. The effect is one of social groups--Not a specific religion. We do better, mentally and physically when we are the "popular ones", when we're at the "top" of the social hierarchy. There has been hundreds of articles published on this--From ranking in a company, to where you stand in a fraternity, to how well your football team does.

When we perceive ourselves at the top socially and in the top social groups, we lower our stress levels--Which means cortisol and other stress hormones levels decreases. We elevate good things, like HDL and good hormones. We tend to be happier, work better with peers, and apparently--Have a better looking hippocampus.

That again, isn't surprising if you think about it. Those stress hormones play havoc on our body. They do everything from lowering our immune system, making us sick more often to causing atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis to reducing neural output from certain cell types in the brain (like dopaminergic cells in the pars compacta of the substania nigra--which can lead to earlier onset of Parkinson's).


View PostDieChecker, on 23 May 2011 - 10:56 PM, said:

Wasn't work done to determine if humans are hard wired for religion and needing something to believe in? Could it be that Atheists are actually living a less-healthy lifestyle?

No people aren't hardwired for religion. This has been successfully put out into the public sphere over and over by religious apologists. What we are "hardwired" for is beliefs in superstitious type things. It has to do with the way that we learn and how our brains evolved to function in complex social groups.

On learning, our "base" type of learning (outside of the modern era) is associative learning and establishing casual relationships. Its what made our ancestors such great problem-solvers.

Silly example to explain; you observe that when you flipped over a rock on accident, down by the river there was easy to get food. The easy food, reinforced the behavior and now you flip over more rocks. You find food and thus the behavior is further reinforced. You've learned a new way to gather food.

But, because its so easy to establish casual relationships for you this can "get out of control". Suppose you notice that the last 3 rocks you flipped you got food, and that you were also wearing your tiger skin loin-cloth instead of your goat one. You now establish that not only that do you get food by flipping rocks, but that you get more food by having the tiger-skin loin cloth.

Silly examples aside, you hear people do it all the time; "these are my luck socks", "that's my lucky number" etc.

On social groups, we communicate extremely diversely as a species. Through a plethora of verbal and non-verbal ways. Ancestors who were better at figuring out the intent and will of their group mates were better at surviving in the group. You can observe the same thing in other modern social animals. Animals which are "in tune" with the other members of the group and good at observing and avoiding conflict do better than ones that don't, on average.

So we have a propensity to ascribe intent to things, whether their human or not and to find "human" in non-human things. This gives us such sweet skills as finding the Virgin's face in toast, "faces" on Mars, etc. It also makes us suspicious etc.


#19    Copasetic

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 02:31 AM

View PostAsgaard, on 24 May 2011 - 12:26 AM, said:

yeah -_- i just think that this article is a little pathetic, and lacks true information. Seems biased in my opinion.


I mean it is from the "Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health"--What did you think they would be publishing? That religion isn't important to health  :P

Again, on a more serious note--I think you need to look at the context. Obviously the authors couldn't get it published in something better than PloS One. The primary authors are still postdocs.

Dr. Owen's bio page at Duke;

Quote

Dr. Owen enjoys speaking to audiences from both pulpit and podium about forgiveness and spirituality and health.

Link

You can call me bat **** crazy if you want, but I'd bet Dr. Owens falls into the "non-born again, protestant" camp--Dunno, just a hunch Watson, just a hunch.

Take it with a grain of salt. No one in the world of psychology or medicine is going to take notice of this--Plain in simple.

Edit: You know its always been interesting to me, that scientists have to diverge potential conflicts of interest in their publications--I think when publishing on religion, spirituality, etc, that should include the scientist listing their professed beliefs. I mean, if you're reading an article about why "such and such religion is better for your health"--Knowing that the author also belongs to "such and such religion" is pretty damn pertinent information to know.

Edited by Copasetic, 24 May 2011 - 02:37 AM.


#20    brainiac

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 03:41 AM

Research not complete.


#21    Paracelse

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 09:36 AM

Could shrinkage come from too cold baptismal water????

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#22    Swamptick

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 12:07 PM

This is a horribly flawed study designed to further marginalize Christianity. Anyone with ANY sense or scientific background would understand that a sample size of 250 people in a small, localized setting is pathetic. Grow up.


#23    Lilly

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 12:34 PM

View PostCopasetic, on 24 May 2011 - 02:31 AM, said:

...Take it with a grain of salt. No one in the world of psychology or medicine is going to take notice of this--Plain in simple.


Exactly, that pretty much says it all.

This was a flawed study undertaken with an agenda in mind. Certain religious folks will like it...scientists will not.

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#24    Ashtarel

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Posted 24 May 2011 - 03:24 PM

Awfully short article, and leaves unexplained the pat statement that traditional Protestantism is better for your brain than any other religious inclination. Better than No Religion and better than Catholicism. And of course better than Born-Againism. Which says that Catholicism is as bad for your brain as No Religion, and Born-Againism is as bad for your brain as Catholicism, and so on. The article is too short -- so short, in fact, that a TYPO anywhere in it could alter the entire message. I say, DUH. (But maybe it's my hypocampus thingie, all shrunk to a raisin from my belief in the White Light, guardian angels, and reincarnation. I could be brain dead by now, and too stricken to know it!)

Edited by Ashtarel, 24 May 2011 - 03:27 PM.


#25    Taut

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Posted 31 May 2011 - 05:09 PM

When I was six, a Southern Baptist preacher told me I was going to hell.   I'm pretty sure my hippocampus shriveled at that point, and hence I have avoided all of the religious dogma that I'm capable of avoiding.
The mind body connection being what it is, I can see how the endlessly negative milieu of some denominations could literally cause brain component atrophy. Insipient, subtle stress from one's belief system.  I would then hold that the opposite might be true as well.


#26    rfj1

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Posted 03 June 2011 - 06:23 PM

View PostTaut, on 31 May 2011 - 05:09 PM, said:

When I was six, a Southern Baptist preacher told me I was going to hell.   I'm pretty sure my hippocampus shriveled at that point, and hence I have avoided all of the religious dogma that I'm capable of avoiding.
The mind body connection being what it is, I can see how the endlessly negative milieu of some denominations could literally cause brain component atrophy. Insipient, subtle stress from one's belief system.  I would then hold that the opposite might be true as well.

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#27    DieChecker

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 11:01 PM

View PostTaut, on 31 May 2011 - 05:09 PM, said:

When I was six, a Southern Baptist preacher told me I was going to hell.   I'm pretty sure my hippocampus shriveled at that point, and hence I have avoided all of the religious dogma that I'm capable of avoiding.
The mind body connection being what it is, I can see how the endlessly negative milieu of some denominations could literally cause brain component atrophy. Insipient, subtle stress from one's belief system.  I would then hold that the opposite might be true as well.
How then to explain that the Non-Religious fall into the same "Shrunken" catagory?

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#28    markdohle

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 03:46 PM

Nonsense.


#29    Emin

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 09:03 PM

Religion does set it's limits to what an individual is willing to accept or care to understand but it is as well capable of enlightening a person on a deeper level that is unlike anything a person with no religious affiliation would be capable of understanding.


#30    Silver Surfer

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 09:51 PM

Being brainwashed by religion would cause this to happen. Its true.





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