Author Interviews, Brigham & Women's - Harvard, Medical Imaging, Neurological Disorders / 02.07.2021 Interview with: Michael Ferguson, PhD Instructor in Neurology | Harvard Medical School Lecturer on Neurospirituality | Harvard Divinity School Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics Brigham and Women’s Hospital What is the background for this study? Response: Over 80% of the global population consider themselves religious with even more identifying as spiritual, but the neural substrates of spirituality and religiosity remain unresolved. What are the main findings? Where is this circuit located in the brain? What other effects does this circuit control or influence? Response: We found that brain lesions associated with self-reported spirituality map to a human brain circuit centered on the periaqueductal grey. (more…)
Author Interviews / 03.09.2020 Interview with: Kyla Fergason Senior Undergraduate Student Michael K. Scullin, Ph.D. Principal Investigator Baylor University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: There’s a fairly sizable literature suggesting that religious affiliation and religious engagement are associated with positive health outcomes. Therefore, we were surprised to find that agnostic/atheist individuals reported better sleep health than Christian individuals in the Baylor Religion Survey (BRS-5). 73% of agnostic/atheist individuals reported sleeping 7-9 hours/night whereas only 63% of Christian individuals met these consensus sleep guidelines. The most affected Christian denominations were Baptists (54.6%) and Catholics (62.3%). These results stood even after adjusting for age and gender. We predicted the opposite pattern. And, it wasn’t just about longer sleep durations. Agnostic/atheist individuals even reported greater ease falling asleep compared to Christian individuals.    (more…)
Author Interviews, Brigham & Women's - Harvard, Social Issues / 05.12.2018 Interview with: Professor Tyler VanderWeele Ph.D John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology Harvard University What is the background for this study? What are the key points of the paper?   Response: Several prior studies have suggested that religious service attendance is associated with lower rates of divorce. However, many of these studies have been with small samples and have not had rigorous study designs. In addition, most studies have focused on women earlier in life and there has been little research on the effects of religious service attendance on divorce later in life. While divorce rates in the United States in general has been falling, it has in fact been increasing for middle-aged groups, doubling between 1990 and 2010. In our study we found that among women in mid- to late- life, regular religious service attendance was subsequently associated with 50% lower divorce rates over the following 14 years of the study. We also found that among those who were widowed, religious service attendance was associated with a 49% increase in the likelihood of remarrying over the 14 years of the study. (more…)
Author Interviews / 14.09.2018 Interview with: Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele PhD Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: There have been a number of prior studies on religious practices of adolescents, but this study is a relatively big step forward because it is considerably more rigorous than the vast majority of prior studies. The study uses a large sample of over 5,000 adolescents, it follows them up for more than eight years, it controls for many other variables to try to isolate the effect of religious upbringing, and it looks at many outcomes. In our analysis, we found that children who were raised in a religious or spiritual environment were subsequently better protected from the “big three” dangers of adolescence – depression, substance abuse and risky behaviors. For example, those who attended religious services regularly were subsequently:
  • 12% less likely to have high depressive symptoms
  • 33% less likely to use illicit drugs
Those who prayed or meditated frequently were:
  • 30% less likely to start having sex at a young age
  • 40% less likely to subsequently have a sexually transmitted infection.
Moreover, a religious upbringing also contributed towards to a number of positive outcomes as well such greater happiness, more volunteering in the community, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and higher levels of forgiveness. For example,those who attended religious services were subsequently:
  • 18% more likely to report high levels of happiness
  • 87% more likely to have high levels of forgivenessThose who prayed or meditated frequently were subsequently:
  • 38% more likely to volunteer in their community
  • 47% more likely to have a high sense of mission and purpose
These are relatively large effects across a variety of health and well-being outcomes.  (more…)
Author Interviews, Psychological Science / 12.11.2017 Interview with: Dr. Miguel Farias, DPhil Reader in Cognitive and Biological Psychology Coventry University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: Over the past 20 years, cognitive psychologists have suggested that believing in the supernatural is something that comes to us 'naturally' or intuitively. Previous studies have suggested people who hold strong religious beliefs are more intuitive and less analytical, and when they think more analytically their religious beliefs decrease. Our new research has challenged this. We used various experimental methods, including field research in the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and neural stimulation. , by academics from Coventry University's Centre for Advances in Behavioural Science and neuroscientists and philosophers at Oxford University, suggests that is not the case, and that people are not 'born believers'. (more…)
Author Interviews, MRI, Psychological Science / 02.12.2016 Interview with: Jeffrey S. Anderson, MD, PhD Director the fMRI Neurosurgical Mapping Service Principal Investigator for the Utah Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory University of Utah What is your study about? Response: Billions of people find meaning in life and make choices based on religious and spiritual experiences. These experiences range from epiphanies that change the lives of celebrated mystics to subtle feelings of peace and joy in the lives of neighbors, friends, or family members that are interpreted as spiritual, divine, or transcendent. Astonishingly, with all we understand about the brain, we still know very little about how the brain participates in these experiences. We set out to answer what brain networks are involved in representing spiritual feelings in one group of people, devout Mormons. (more…)