Spiritual, Religious Preferences Linked to Thicker Brain Cortex, Reduced Risk of Depression

Lisa Miller

Lisa Miller

Ravi Bansal

Ravi Bansal

People who value spiritual and religious practices show different brain structures than those for whom these beliefs are less important, according to Columbia’s Lisa Miller, Ravi Bansal, Priya Wickramaratne, Xuejun Hao, and Myrna M. WeissmanCraig E. Tenke and Bradley S. Peterson.

This finding is consistent with an earlier summary of transformations of brain structure and function associated with spiritual experiences compiled by University of Pennsylvania’s Andrew B. Newberg.

Andrew Newberg

Andrew Newberg

Priya Wickramaratne

Priya Wickramaratne

Miller’s team rated more than 100 volunteers on their risk of depression, based on family history of having parents or grandparents with major depression.

They also evaluated participants’ ratings of spiritual and religious values as well as religious participation at two times during a five year period.
The team also performed structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of each volunteer’s brain at the second time point. 

Xuejun Hao

Xuejun Hao

Myrna Weissman

Myrna Weissman

MRI brain scans showed significant differences in brain structure for those who valued spiritual and religious practices: Thicker cortices in the left and right parietal and occipital regions and mesial frontal lobes, and left hemisphere cuneus and precuneus.

In separate investigations, Miller, Wickramaratne, Tenke, and Weissman collaborated with Columbia colleagues Daniel Pilowsky, Helen Verdeli, Marc J. Gameroff, and Mia Sage, and New York State Psychiatric Institute’s Virginia Warner, with Yoko Nomura of Queens College in a 20 year longitudinal study following adult children of people diagnosed with major depression.

Craig Tenke

Craig Tenke

Daniel Pilowsky

Daniel Pilowsky

Adult children who also reported at the beginning of the study that religion or spirituality was “highly important” to them had 75%-90% less risk of experiencing major depression over 10 years, compared with people who had no family history of depression.
These findings suggest that spiritual and religious values buffer genetic risk of depressive disorders.

Mia Sage

Mia Sage

Yoko Nomura

Yoko Nomura

Further support for this notion comes from related work by Columbia’s Tenke, who collaborated with Jürgen Kayser, Carlye G. Manna, Shiva Fekri, Christopher J. Kroppmann, Jennifer D. Schaller, Daniel M. Alschuler, Jonathan W. Stewart, Patrick J. McGrath, and Gerard E. Bruder to report that people who recover from depression have high-amplitude alpha brain activity, which is also associated with continued practice of Qigong meditation, according to University of Graz’s Gerhard Litscher, G. Wenzel, Gerald Niederwieser, and Gerhard Schwarz.

Gerhard Litscher

Gerhard Litscher

Gerald Niederwieser

Gerald Niederwieser

Taken together, these findings on brain wave activity, spirituality, and depression suggest that spiritual practice affects brain function.

Miller’s team posited that spiritual or religious practices like mindfulness, meditation, and religious practice may reduce high familial risk for major depression due to structural changes in the brain.

-*How credible are suggestions that spiritual values and practices alter brain structure and function?

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One thought on “Spiritual, Religious Preferences Linked to Thicker Brain Cortex, Reduced Risk of Depression

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    CARRE Georges Olivier, Vice Président at 60000 Rebonds Val d’Oise wrote on 21 August 2014:

    A ce sujet, lire “Connectez vous à vous même” de Chade-Meng Tan, même Google aide ses salariés à développer encore plus leur cerveau (pourtant le recrutement est déjà très sélectif). Thank you for this article !

    Kathryn responded:

    Merci beaucoup, Georges, pour l’aide-mémoire d’autre “post” au sujet de “Google Jolly Good Fellow” Chade-Meng Tan – “Interpersonal Envy in Competitive Organizations and the “Search Inside Yourself” (SIY) Antidote” – https://kathrynwelds.com/2013/05/29/interpersonal-envy-in-competitive-organizations-and-the-siy-antidote/…et son programme ““Search Inside Yourself” (SIY)” a Google.

    Reply

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