Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have concluded that religious practices affect the brain volume of older adults. Specifically, scientists found that subjects who identified themselves as “born-again,” Catholic, or having no religious affiliation had smaller hippocampus regions than those who did not self-identify as “born-again.” The hippocampus is responsible for emotion and memory regulation and naturally atrophies over time, but those claiming a “born-again” experience were found to have experienced more atrophy in the hippocampus region than those who did not. Study authors say the long-term stress of participating in a minority religious group has implications for brain-size and health.
But not everyone is agreeing wtih the results of the study. David Roozen, sociologist at Hartford seminary, says there’s no evidence that evangelicals—which Gallup polls say represent 40 percent of the U.S.—are a stressed-out minority, particularly in the South. An article in The Christian Post quoted Wheaton College psychology professor Dr. William Struthers, who remarked, “The covariates that they mention in the study—specifically age, depression status, and sex—are really missing and I would want to look at that data before I draw any additional conclusions from that…My concern is how this data is utilized, and if it is used as a way to demean people of faith.” The main author of the study, Amy Owen, admitted, “”There may be more factors responsible for the correlation,” and she hopes others will try to repeat the study and offer other reasons for the findings. The study was funded by the Templeton Foundation and the National Institute of Health.