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This article has been published in Scientific American, May 31, 2011.

The published version is available at Scientific American. Copyright ©

Scientific American, Inc.


A study links life-changing religious experiences, like being born again, with atrophy in the hippocampus.

The article, “Religious factors and hippocampal atrophy in late life,” by Amy Owen and colleagues at Duke University represents an important advance in our growing understanding of the relationship between the brain and religion. The study showed greater atrophy in the hippocampus in individuals who identify with specific religious groups as well as those with no religious affiliation. It is a surprising result, given that many prior studies have shown religion to have potentially beneficial effects on brain function, anxiety, and depression.