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Culture & Religion

Study reveals two hormones that may decrease religiosity

A study finds a link between sex hormones and level of religiosity.
Figurines of John Paul II, among others, are sold at the entrance of the 'Cristo Rey' Church, located at Cristo Rey neighbourhood in San Jose, on July 7, 2013 where a mass to thank late Pope John Paul II for the miracle in favour of Costa Rican Floribeth

Do hormones and physiology have any role in whether you believe in God? Such is the implication of a recent study published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology

The study’s author Aniruddha “Bobby” Das of McGill University conducts research on how social factors influence human physiology and “the other way around”. His research found that religion has a great impact on the human body. In particular, older men with higher levels of the sex hormone testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are less religious.

“Religion seems to influence all kinds of physiological processes,” said Das. “There’s a lot of work these days on spirituality, church attendance — multiple dimensions of religiosity — as buffers against cardiovascular and metabolic problems. There’s a separate strand of research on how hormones and social factors cause each other. Hormones are not just static ‘internal’ factors — they respond to our social lives.”

The study looked at data from 1,071 older (57+) American men who took part in the 2005-2006 and 2010-2011 waves of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP).

Das determined that men who showed higher levels of testosterone and DHEA at wave 1 actually exhibited weaker religious ties when it came time for the follow-up. They attended fewer religious services and had less contact with religious figures.

“Hormones seem to lead people to avoid contact with religion,” concluded Das.

While the researcher controlled the statistics for the effects of age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, hormone supplements, waist size, diagnosed conditions, and overall health, he cautions that there are some “caveats” and more studies need to be done. What is especially unconfirmed is what happens at younger ages. Das cautions that sex hormones may be just one factor influencing religious activities.

Other studies, like this 2017 one from Imperial College London, that have looked at physiological differences between religious and non-religious people found that “religiosity correlates inversely with intelligence”. In that research, the scientists found that atheists surpass religious people in reasoning skills but not working-memory performance. The religious were found to rely more on intuition and showed poorer cognitive performance. 


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