-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
THURSDAY, Dec. 26, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Higher levels of
self-professed spiritual belief appear to be reflected in increased
thickness of a key brain area, a new study finds.
Researchers at Columbia University in New York City found that
the outer layer of the brain, known as the cortex, is thicker in
some areas among people who place a lot of significance on
The study involved 103 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 who
were the children and grandchildren of both depressed study
participants and those who were not depressed.
A team led by Lisa Miller analyzed how often the participants
went to church and the level of importance they placed on religion.
This assessment was made twice over the course of five years. Using
MRI technology, the cortical thickness of the participants' brains
was also measured once.
The study, published Dec. 25 in
JAMA Psychiatry, revealed the significance of religion or
spirituality was linked with thicker cortices in certain parts of
the brain. The effect was stronger among those at high genetic risk
for depression than those at lower risk. This was particularly
evident in a part of the brain where a thinner cortex may be linked
with a familial risk for developing depression, the researchers
Although the importance of religion was tied with thicker
cortices in some parts of the brain, the study showed the frequency
of church attendance did not have the same association. This was
true regardless of the participants' genetic risk for
The findings only show an association between cortical thickness
and religious belief "and therefore do not prove a causal
association," the study authors stressed.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
provides more information on
the human brain.
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