Join the Unexplained Mysteries community today! It's free and setting up an account only takes a moment.
- Sign In or Create Account -
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 3
Karlis

Religion may affect brain changes

32 posts in this topic

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. arrow3.gifRead more...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 ?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

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;

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;

Limitations include the geographically and religiously constrained nature of the sample (largely Southeastern

Protestant Christians),

As in the above quote and this one;

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 ?

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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.

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?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

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;

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.

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).

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

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;

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Research not complete.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

...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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 3

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.