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Religion Brain Behav. 2011;1(2):103-118. Epub 2011 Oct 3.

Associations of religious behavior and experiences with extent of regional atrophy in the orbitofrontal cortex during older adulthood.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA.


The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is a region of the brain that has been empirically linked with religious or spiritual activity, and atrophy in this region has been shown to contribute to serious mental illness in late life. This study used structural magnetic resonance imaging to examine the association between religious or spiritual factors and volume of the orbitalfrontal cortex (OFC). Change in the volume of participants' left and right OFC was measured longitudinally over a period of two to eight years. Multiple linear regression analyses showed that religious or spiritual factors were related to extent of atrophy in the left OFC. Significantly less atrophy of the left OFC was observed in participants who reported a life-changing religious or spiritual experience during the course of the study, and in members of Protestant religious groups who reported being born-again when entering the study. Significantly greater atrophy of the left OFC was also associated with more frequent participation in public religious worship. No significant relationship was observed between religious or spiritual factors and extent of atrophy in the right OFC. These results support the presence of a long-term relationship between religious or spiritual experience and brain structure, which may have clinical implications.

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