Friday, May 27, 2011

Evangelicals and Atheists Have Something in Common

HippocampusI was at work yesterday when the tornado siren went off. We had a tornado warning in the Hattiesburg area, and people are clearly taking these more seriously after all the damage seen recently in other areas. While searching the web to see what I could find about the likely duration of the warning, I ran across something unexpected on a local TV station website (WDAM): Being 'born-again' linked to more brain atrophy.

Evidently, the same Christian god who was sending tornados my way wanted me to find this article about a scientific study linking religious experiences and atheism to brain dysfunction.
According to the study, people who said they were a "born-again" Protestant or Catholic, or conversely, those who had no religious affiliation, had more hippocampal shrinkage (or "atrophy") compared to people who identified themselves as Protestants, but not born-again.
It sounds like the researchers interpreted the findings as being due to "holding religious beliefs that fall outside of the mainstream." In other words, both evangelical Christians and atheists may experience added stress (known to affect the brain) from holding unconventional beliefs.
"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.
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