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 4
ChloeB

Religious Experiences Shrink Part of Brain

16 posts in this topic

In this study, Owen et al. used MRI to measure the volume of the hippocampus, a central structure of the limbic system that is involved in emotion as well as in memory formation. They evaluated the MRIs of 268 men and women aged 58 and over, who were originally recruited for the NeuroCognitive Outcomes of Depression in the Elderly study, but who also answered several questions regarding their religious beliefs and affiliation. The study by Owen et al. is unique in that it focuses specifically on religious individuals compared to non-religious individuals. This study also broke down these individuals into those who are born again or who have had life-changing religious experiences.

The results showed significantly greater hippocampal atrophy in individuals reporting a life-changing religious experience. In addition, they found significantly greater hippocampal atrophy among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again.

The authors offer the hypothesis that the greater hippocampal atrophy in selected religious groups might be related to stress. They argue that some individuals in the religious minority, or those who struggle with their beliefs, experience higher levels of stress. This causes a release of stress hormones that are known to depress the volume of the hippocampus over time. This might also explain the fact that both non-religious as well as some religious individuals have smaller hippocampal volumes.

This is an interesting hypothesis. Many studies have shown positive effects of religion and spirituality on mental health, but there are also plenty of examples of negative impacts. There is evidence that members of religious groups who are persecuted or in the minority might have markedly greater stress and anxiety as they try to navigate their own society. Other times, a person might perceive God to be punishing them and therefore have significant stress in the face of their religious struggle. Others experience religious struggle because of conflicting ideas with their religious tradition or their family. Even very positive, life-changing experiences might be difficult to incorporate into the individual’s prevailing religious belief system and this can also lead to stress and anxiety. Perceived religious transgressions can cause emotional and psychological anguish. This “religious” and “spiritual pain” can be difficult to distinguish from pure physical pain. And all of these phenomena can have potentially negative effects on the brain.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=religious-experiences-shrink-part-of-brain

I don't know if this has been posted before. I just saw it, thought it was interesting. I always say all that guilt and sin isn't healthy for anyone, maybe it's true.

4 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Summary: Depression can cause atrophy of the hippocampus.

Many "born-again" people are recovering from depression.

Religion must cause brain damage.

imo

Edited by Eldorado
3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i have no idea what this means. can some one dumb it down?

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Summary; Depression causes greater atrophy in the hippocampus.

Many "born-again" people are recovering from depression.

Religion must cause brain damage.

imo

thx eldorado, but that is kinda a weak argument right?
1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Eldorado was being facetious, but he might be right! :tu:

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What they were doing was a study on the elderly about depression and religious affiliation was a question asked of the participants and they started noticing a correlation with atrophy of the hippocampus. They hypothesized that it was related to stress. I don't think they said, but the stress hormone they'd be talking about is cortisol and it causes the hippocampus to shrink, it also affects memory function. Basically, religion doesn't necesarily cause brain atrophy, but stress does, so if your religion causes stress, then yeah, it's connected I would say. So like if you're stressing about going to hell all the live long day and if God is watching and ticked at you for having a sinful thought and the belief is really a source of dismay rather than comfort, then that's what it is. For the people who float on clouds singing Jesus loves the little children and is all sweet and down with uber grooviness, it would actually alter the affects they mention, because it would reduce stress. Religion isn't the culprit, cortisol is and stress brings out cortisol, but stress comes from many sources. I just thought it was odd and interesting they said they were seeing that the "results showed significantly greater hippocampal atrophy in individuals reporting a life-changing religious experience. In addition, they found significantly greater hippocampal atrophy among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again." But you see there and they kind of ignored this, but they found significant greater hippocampal atrophy in those with no religious affiliation as well as born-agains and Catholics, the ones not identifying as born-agains were less (probably they are like the ones I describe thinking how groovy Jesus is all the time, not so much punishing type God). That help?

Edited by ChloeB
2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very interesting subject ChloeB, thanks! I can speak from experience that I was very stressed and depressed while I was a christian, constantly worrying if I and my loved ones was going to hell if we didn't obey god etc. I found sharing gods word with other people stressful as most people now days aren't interested in religion, especially as we learn more and more about science and history. I can honestly say hand on heart I sleep alot better knowing I don't have to believe and follow these things anymore. I feel liberated and pretty much stress free, and my mental wellbeing is constantly improving. It just didn't work for me.

Edited by Bling
5 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very interesting subject ChloeB, thanks! I can speak from experience that I was very stressed and depressed while I was a christian, constantly worrying if I and my loved ones was going to hell if we didn't obey god etc. I found sharing gods word with other people stressful as most people now days aren't interested in religion, especially as we learn more and more about science and history. I can honestly say hand on heart I sleep alot better knowing I don't have to believe and follow these things anymore. I feel liberated and pretty much stress free, and my mental wellbeing is constantly improving. It just didn't work for me.

Ba-zing!

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very interesting subject ChloeB, thanks! I can speak from experience that I was very stressed and depressed while I was a christian, constantly worrying if I and my loved ones was going to hell if we didn't obey god etc. I found sharing gods word with other people stressful as most people now days aren't interested in religion, especially as we learn more and more about science and history. I can honestly say hand on heart I sleep alot better knowing I don't have to believe and follow these things anymore. I feel liberated and pretty much stress free, and my mental wellbeing is constantly improving. It just didn't work for me.

Yes, that is to me the worst thing they get people to do, sharing the good news! I remember in high school, these guys that were all cool before starting hanging out at church and getting all super into it and they made them go to where all the kids from our school hung out and witness to them all and these guys knew us forever and they look SO nervous and uncomfortable, but they must have told them that God insists or something. Same thing with this poor litttle nerdy Jehovah's Witness girl who everyone picked on and I took up for in PE so I was nice to her because I always felt bad for her, she was as gangly and goofy as could be, then plop not being able to celebrate any holidays and all that, well she was totally picked on, but I saw her somewhere in a parking lot and waved at her, and her mother FORCED her to come over and try to talk to me about God and that girl was absolutely shaking and trembling. I wanted to slap her mother.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I felt that even though I wanted to share how happy I thought I was, I was also a little embarassed because I know it sounded a stretch of the imagination! You live and learn.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Must be me, but I had to laugh out loud when I read the title !!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What they were doing was a study on the elderly about depression and religious affiliation was a question asked of the participants and they started noticing a correlation with atrophy of the hippocampus. They hypothesized that it was related to stress. I don't think they said, but the stress hormone they'd be talking about is cortisol and it causes the hippocampus to shrink, it also affects memory function. Basically, religion doesn't necesarily cause brain atrophy, but stress does, so if your religion causes stress, then yeah, it's connected I would say. So like if you're stressing about going to hell all the live long day and if God is watching and ticked at you for having a sinful thought and the belief is really a source of dismay rather than comfort, then that's what it is. For the people who float on clouds singing Jesus loves the little children and is all sweet and down with uber grooviness, it would actually alter the affects they mention, because it would reduce stress. Religion isn't the culprit, cortisol is and stress brings out cortisol, but stress comes from many sources. I just thought it was odd and interesting they said they were seeing that the "results showed significantly greater hippocampal atrophy in individuals reporting a life-changing religious experience. In addition, they found significantly greater hippocampal atrophy among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again." But you see there and they kind of ignored this, but they found significant greater hippocampal atrophy in those with no religious affiliation as well as born-agains and Catholics, the ones not identifying as born-agains were less (probably they are like the ones I describe thinking how groovy Jesus is all the time, not so much punishing type God). That help?

I think religion could be a contributor to stress in some cases. I have also enclosed a link that explains stress in a lot of detail as taught in High School (now in my state California). This is from my sons curriculum, it is for anyone interested in what Science now knows about stress.

Chloe, I agree that religion can be taught by delivering Jesus packaged in rainbows and marshmallow clouds, I even agree if presented this way Religion could be a on the list under stress management (for some) yet, in some childhood religious approaches it was and still can be taught as a major contributor to lifelong stress for which science does not yet have ways to restore neurological balance one needs for their brains to manage stress. Understanding the impacts of stress on ones health is imperative to ones well being in the long run. For me, it is a good idea to look at all possible ways, it is in doing this I can make changes as opposed to getting stuck in denial and deflection.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199601/stress-its-worse-you-think?page=8

Prehistoric man also differed in one profound way from modern man. Although an awareness of the cycles of nature and physical principles like gravity would likely have been present in even our most primitive ancestors, an understanding of the forces of nature would have completely eluded them.

Having no understanding of science meant having no sense of control over one's environment. Ancient man appears to have worried endlessly about celestial "beings" (sun gods, moon gods, etc.), and we know that until relatively recent times it was common for people to assign human traits to these deities.

This would have implied that it was within the realm of possibility for, say, the sun god to feel angry or neglected one day, thus deciding not to rise and plunging the world into darkness and chaos. Imagine going to sleep each night fretting that you may have failed to properly perform a certain worshipful ritual and that as a consequence your entire tribe or family might be forever doomed to darkness and misery.

From both a physical and a psychological vantage point, our ancestors lived a much more stressful existence than we do today. The mechanisms that evolved to combat the deleterious effects of those stressors are still intact and usually serve us well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Stress

The hippocampus contains high levels of glucocorticoid receptors, which make it more vulnerable to long-term stress than most other brain areas.[72] Stress-related steroids affect the hippocampus in at least three ways: first, by reducing the excitability of some hippocampal neurons; second, by inhibiting the genesis of new neurons in the dentate gyrus; third, by causing atrophy of dendrites in pyramidal cells of the CA3 region. There is evidence that humans who have experienced severe, long-lasting traumatic stress, show atrophy of the hippocampus, more than of other parts of the brain.[73] These effects show up in post-traumatic stress disorder,[74] and they may contribute to the hippocampal atrophy reported in schizophrenia[75] and severe depression.[76] A recent study has also revealed atrophy as a result of depression, but this can be stopped with anti-depressants, even if they are not effective in relieving other symptoms.[77] Hippocampal atrophy is also frequently seen in Cushing's syndrome, a disorder caused by high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream. At least some of these effects appear to be reversible if the stress is discontinued. There is, however, evidence mainly derived from studies using rats that stress shortly after birth can affect hippocampal function in ways that persist throughout life.[78]

http://en.wikipedia....iki/Hippocampus

Hippocampal atrophy is a form of brain damage that impacts both memory and spacial navigation. It is often associated with memory-loss conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Causes include severe trauma, oxygen deprivation and encephalitis and may also include both long-term stress and neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and schizophrenia. While prescription medications can slow atrophy and therapy can help manage the affects, there is no known cure for hippocampal atrophy.

The hippocampus is an extension of the cerebral cortex and is located in the medial temporal lobe. Most experts agree that it plays a significant role in both memory and in spacial awareness, though the details of its involvement are widely disputed. It also appears to play a significant role in olfactory memory. Atrophy is a shrinking or lessening; hippocampal atrophy, then, is a shrinking of the hippocampus.

http://www.wisegeek....pal-atrophy.htm

Schizophrenia (/ˌskɪtsɵˈfrɛniə/ or /ˌskɪtsɵˈfrniə/) is a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown of thought processes and by poor emotional responsiveness.[1] It most commonly features auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction.

Could this explain why many believers have "unexplainable" experiences ?

Edited by Render
1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was mentally ill before I got involved in religion...and it just made me more ill.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suspect the hypothesis is actually a case of the fallacy of the false casue:

  • False Cause:

    assuming that because two things happened, the first one caused the second one. (Sequence is not causation.) For example, "Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons." Or, "Every time my brother Bill accompanies me to Fenway Park, the Red Sox are sure to lose."

    Essentially, these are arguments that the sun goes down because we've turned on the street lights.

    

I've written a book on my religious experiences. In the course of the described events the question naturally arose of whether I had become mentally ill. So the controversy of religious experience vis a vis mental illness is of interest to me. Frankly the opinions of psychiatrist are nothing less than quackery to me. In fact there is so little scientific basis to psychiatry that it can't be considered anything but quackery by an objective and reasonable individual who researches the practice.

Even a topic like schizophrenia is highly controversial, and some in the mental health practices even argue that schizophrenia simply doesn't exist, and the behaviors are another dynamic taking place which is actually understandable. Others blame parasites for the symptoms, and still others argue for and against the biological basis for schizophrenia. In my research the group which seems to have impressive insight, in my opinion, are those of the school of Parapsychology. I have to admit the patterns they recognize and the emerging themes of the progression of transpersonal experiences, impressed me and resonated with mutuality and insight to me.

I want to encourage those of you reading this topic to greatly question the premis and hypothesis put forward, and to familiarize yourselves to some degree with Parapsychology for deeper insight into religios experiences when assessing them. The biological basis of transpersonal events is highly suspect and controversial, and in my view isn't any more than a possible small percentage of the basis factor in those who have transpersonal experiences.

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 4

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.