Thursday, April 28, 2011

Religion and brain atrophy...

I guess I might as well continue the religion theme of yesterday's post with this piece from Owen et al., on religious factors and hippocampal atrophy in later life:
Despite a growing interest in the ways spiritual beliefs and practices are reflected in brain activity, there have been relatively few studies using neuroimaging data to assess potential relationships between religious factors and structural neuroanatomy. This study examined prospective relationships between religious factors and hippocampal volume change using high-resolution MRI data of a sample of 268 older adults. Religious factors assessed included life-changing religious experiences, spiritual practices, and religious group membership. 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. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was observed for participants reporting a life-changing religious experience. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was also observed from baseline to final assessment among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again. These associations were not explained by psychosocial or demographic factors, or baseline cerebral volume. Hippocampal volume has been linked to clinical outcomes, such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer's Disease. The findings of this study indicate that hippocampal atrophy in late life may be uniquely influenced by certain types of religious factors.


  1. You need a logo. Every time I try and post one of your blogs to facebook, it tries to put your face next to it. All good and well, but do you want to be the icon for 'religion and brain atrophy', 'self-injury and the internet'? :)

    Also, the correlation between 'non-affiliated' and hypocampal atrophy is intriguing. The paper might foist this off as being 'due to being a religous minority', but unless I missed something in the results (quite likely, I skimmed), but this seems to question organized religion as the root cause. Subjectively, I don't buy the 'religious minority' business. The non-affiliated are, I would assume, non-affiliated before the study started. Is being non-religous that distressful? After one has come to terms with other people's religion. Unless all the participants were all locked in a Protestant rest home together, I suspect another explanation. Care to comment?

  2. I don't know why facebook goes and fetches the picture of me in the left column of my blog.. I don't think of it as a logo. No comment on your second point, I haven't studied the material.