Is Religion Good for Your Brain?

Eastman Johnson, Child at Prayer, circa 1873A scientific justification for otherwise inexplicable belief systems? From Discovery News:

If you live in Georgia, you’re more likely to have a healthy brain than if you live in Minnesota. That’s according to an annual state-by-state ranking released this week by a national health education campaign called Beautiful Minds.

While Georgians could use more “mental stimulation through reading and game playing,” their high level of religious activity elevated them to a No. 10 ranking. And while Minnesotans read more and are active in their communities, their low level of religious activities contributed to their No. 31 ranking.

Why the emphasis on religion? Research has linked religious activity with everything from reduced stress to better memory retention.

One recent study, published in December of 2013 in JAMA Psychiatry, found that people at risk of depression were much less vulnerable if they identified as religious: Brain MRIs revealed that religious participants had thicker brain cortices than those who weren’t as religious (those with a family history of depression often have a thinning of the cortices).

Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University and a professor of psychiatry, said the depression research will likely be hailed as a landmark study — but he wasn’t surprised by the findings. He’s written books, including “The Healing Power of Faith,” “Faith and Mental Health,” about the health benefits of religion. Those benefits include lowered stress through prayer and meditation.

“One of the worst killers of brain cells is stress,” said Dr. Majid Fotuhi, founder and chief medical officer of NeurExpand and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, as well as a consultant to the Beautiful Minds project. “Stress causes high levels of cortisol, and cortisol is toxic to the hippocampus. One way to reduce stress is through prayer. When you’re praying and in the zone you feel a peace of mind and tranquility.”

The social element of attending religious services has also been linked to healthy brains…

[continues at Discovery News]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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14 Comments on "Is Religion Good for Your Brain?"

  1. “My personal belief is that having a strong belief is key to getting the
    benefits,” Fotuhi said. “It’s hard to study these things; it’s why
    research has stayed away from them. But there does seem to be a strong
    link between spirituality and better brain health.”

    They need to distinguish between spirituality and religiousness: the two are not the same thing.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Mar 15, 2014 at 12:57 pm |

    anyone who follows a traditional religion to the letter
    surely would benefit others as well as themselves
    too bad religions are easily hacked by hypocrites
    and used to create strife, stress & oppression

  3. luther_blissett5 | Mar 15, 2014 at 1:01 pm |

    The study might also need to distinguish between types of religious belief. My observation of dogmatic and fundamentalist types tells me religion is not so good for their brains. Perhaps like most things it’s healthier in moderation?

    • kowalityjesus | Mar 15, 2014 at 9:04 pm |

      I personally subscribe to the Twainian notion that “one should not talk to children about religion if one expects them to have any when they are older.” Rationally, I am glad I hopped on the bandwagon late-ish, but I am also glad that I did at all.

  4. Thurlow Weed | Mar 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm |

    These “spiritual” persons believe they are doing what god expects of them, and therefore, experience a sense of security in knowing they have obeyed the big daddy figure in the sky. Happy as pigs in shit, believers are relieved of the stress that usually comes with life’s contradictions, especially the study of science. Everything is either explained neatly for them or is a mystery because that’s just how big daddy rolls, no need to fear.

    • kowalityjesus | Mar 17, 2014 at 12:23 am |

      There are undoubtedly people like this that you describe, although you are clearly using charged language, but it obviously does not constitute the entirety of the religious.

      • Thurlow Weed | Mar 17, 2014 at 2:26 am |

        For the most part, my condescending explanation is accurate, so I’m not sure what you’re objecting to. I never said all people who defines themselves as religious. Religious is a loose term but the popular connotation of the word means that you do more than only attend church on holidays.

        • kowalityjesus | Mar 17, 2014 at 1:59 pm |

          I wouldn’t be so rational with my explanation of the benefits people draw from religiosity. Disinfo is a haven for the bizarre, and there is no small order of that when dealing with the ethereal vicissitudes of human destiny. Angels and demons, my man.

  5. scarletspider | Mar 15, 2014 at 3:23 pm |

    So basically, meditation is good.

  6. Calypso_1 | Mar 15, 2014 at 4:15 pm |

    What I read was that religious persons are thicker in the head.

  7. kowalityjesus | Mar 15, 2014 at 9:07 pm |

    I don’t deny that it’s possible to make your own religion, it’s just incredibly hard, perhaps impossible. But hardship forges one as though in the fires of Vulcan.

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