Science, finally, has something positve to say about religion and those who take their faith seriously.
A new study by University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough finds that religious people have more self-control, are better at pursuing and achieving long-term goals and are less likely to suffer from depression and substance abuse than non religious folks.
In his report, McCullough says prayer and meditation affect the parts of the human brain that are most important for self-regulation and self-control.
" More recently, neuroscientists have established the importance of the prefrontal cortex (namely, the dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex) and the anterior cingulate cortex for various elements of executive functioning, attention, conflict monitoring, and cognitive control. Thus, these should be precisely the cortical areas that are differentially influenced by prayer and meditation if such religious or spiritual behaviors promote self-regulation."
There have been a number of other studies that show meditation and prayer have a positive affect on the physical structure of the brain. Studies using MRI scans have found that brain regions associated with attention and sensory processing were thicker in meditators than in the non-meditators.
"Our data suggest that meditation practice can promote cortical plasticity in adults in areas important for cognitive and emotional processing and well-being," says Sara Lazar, leader of one particular study and a psychologist at Harvard Medical School.