Jewish Journal

In re-runs: Small brains and ‘born-again’ Christians

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 28, 2011 | 7:28 pm

Remember that study claiming that “born-again” Christians have smaller brains than other Americans? It was reported in May. And I guess the Philadelphia Inquirer missed it.

Earlier this month, the Philly paper published a press release about the study on the health page of its website. The press release carried the dateline “May 25.”

In case you missed the study the first time around, researchers found that the size of the hippocampus was measurably smaller in born-again Christians and people of no faith at all than members of other religious groups. Shrinkage of the hippocampus is caused by stress, and so the researchers said:

“One interpretation of our finding—that members of majority religious groups seem to have less atrophy compared with minority religious groups—is that when you feel your beliefs and values are somewhat at odds with those of society as a whole, it may contribute to long-term stress that could have implications for the brain,” Amy Owen, lead author of the study and a research associate at Duke University Medical Center, said in a Duke news release.

The study authors also suggested that life-changing religious experiences could challenge a person’s established religious beliefs, triggering stress.

Time has not made the association between religious beliefs and the size of the hippocampus seem any more plausible to me. But I still don’t know how you otherwise account for their findings, other than an unaccounted for variable.

Thanks for the tip, Dennis.

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