A new research study, published online by JAMA Psychiatry, showed that the thickening of the cortex in human brain associated with regular meditation or other spiritual or religious practice could be the reason those activities guard against depression. This is especially true for individuals who are genetically predisposed to developing clinical depression. The study was led by Lisa Miller, professor and director of Clinical Psychology and director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Teachers College, Columbia University. MRI scans of the brains of individuals who placed a high importance on religion or spirituality showed thicker cortex area than those who did not. This thickening of the brain cortex was found in exactly the same regions which otherwise would show thinning in people at high risk for depression.
“The new study links this extremely large protective benefit of spirituality or religion to previous studies which identified large expanses of cortical thinning in specific regions of the brain in adult offspring of families at high risk for major depression,” Miller said.