Religion can and does cause literal brain damage, and that that damage can be difficult if not impossible to repair if not addressed early in life Supporting...

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Comment by Hope on November 13, 2011 at 9:40am

so, we're lucky I guess :)

Comment by Ron V on November 13, 2011 at 9:58am

If there is an association, I don't think we can assume causation here.  The study merely only reports possible associations.  Could it also be that the causes of the hippocampal atrophy lead to increased religiosity and not necessarily the other way around?

As far as the logical thinking and psychological aspects, I agree - but that is a different argument than the brain damage argument as presented here.

Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on November 13, 2011 at 10:18am

I have absolutely no doubt that the emotional fear conditioning of children who have the misfortunate to be born into a U.S. style indoctrinating fundamentalist religion have well-entrneched emotional problems.  I have had to deal with the fallout with some of my patients.

I am not, however, convinced by the recent paper that suggests that fear-provoking religion causes permanent brain damage, specifically to the hippocampal area.  While it is true that post-traumatic stressors cause brain disturbances I am not so sure that this is what is happening to the subjects in that study,  The direction of the defect cannot be reliably determined by the study format.  Which comes first:  the brain deficiency (compared with "neurotypical" people) or the fanatical religious belief?  

It is conceivable, and has not been ruled out, that innate deficiencies in the brain's memory circuitry is what attracts people to fundamentalist authoritarian beliefs sets or causes them to remain in an indoctrinated religion of this type. 

People can, and do, think their way out of this cognitively restrictive type of religion.  What happens to their hippocampuses during and after the process?  Do they grow new brain tissue, do they remain impaired, or were they lucky enough not to have been neurally affected by their upbringing? 

It is unlikely, but not impossible, that escapees from authoritarian belief systems of any kind grow new brain tissue in the hippocampal area in response to the significant cognitive stimulation and stress caused by the process of thinking and investigating a belief set that has become part of one's belief about who they are.  In that case, we should expect to find before and after differences in brain volume in those who become disenchanted with their childhood religious beliefs.  No study has done this yet.

Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on November 13, 2011 at 10:21am

Hi Ron V.  It seems that we came to similar conclusions within a minute of each other.  :-)


Comment by Bruce Williams on November 14, 2011 at 12:16am

After watching this video, reading the article sighted, and reading the Scientific American article, it would seem that a better assumption may be that the emotional breadth requirements of both highly religious people and atheists are not as great as people with a so/so religious affiliation.

In other words, us atheists and the religious zealots have a long term limited emotional roller coaster since we are pretty sure we are correct and have lesser need for that part of the hippocampus which the so/so religious people still need since, over the long run, they must deal with issues such as degree of belief in certain things.  And, as we know, the body trends to get rid of those things that it does not use.


Based on this, I would tend not to believe that being a religious zealot causes any brain damage any more than us strong atheists would wind up causing brain damage.  I would tend to think it is just the body doing what evolution says it should do, get rid of the unused stuff so it isn't a burden on everything else.

It is also important to note that this study was on people over 58 years of age, and nothing is known about how this progresses.


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