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Hidden Brain Puzzle # 26: Religiosity Linked to Better Outcomes for Patients with Schizophrenia

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Religiosity appears to be linked to better outcomes for people who suffer from schizophrenia, a debilitating disorder that affects both the ability to think as well as the ability to form meaningful personal relationships.

New research by Carl I. Cohen, Carolina Jimenez and Sukriti Mittal and others compared the religiosity of people suffering from schizophrenia with the religiosity of people who were mentally healthy, as well as outcomes for patients who were and were not religious. They found that fewer people with schizophrenia were religious than those in the general community, but that patients who were religious had better outcomes than patients who did not practice religion.

Here, again, is the Hidden Brain Puzzle # 26. (All puzzles are posted first to The Hidden Brain’s Facebook Page, so log into Facebook and become a fan if you want to hear about subsequent puzzles.)

Religiosity has been linked to
A) A higher likelihood of schizophrenia (a disorder marked by disordered thinking, hallucinations, delusions etc)
B) A lower likelihood of schizophrenia
C) A higher likelihood of recovery from schizophrenia
D) A lower likelihood of recovery from schizophrenia

The correct answer is C.

I think this research ought to be of interest regardless of whether one is a believer: If religious belief is indeed helpful in treating schizophrenia, it ought to be one of the tools used by clinicians. Doctors don’t have to tell patients to become religious if they are not religious, but they can certainly encourage people to practice their faith if they happen to be believers. Since psychology and psychiatry tend to have the largest number of non-believers among science/medical professions, this may be an intervention that is often overlooked.

One of the chapters in The Hidden Brain talks at length about the relationship between the hidden brain and mental disorders – it’s called “Tracking The Hidden Brain: How Mental Disorders Reveal Our Unconscious Lives.” I would highly recommend the chapter if you haven’t read it. I also wrote a series of articles for the Washington Post some years ago exploring the effects of different aspects of culture on mental disorders. One explored the curious phenomenon that people with schizophrenia happen to have better outcomes in poor countries than in rich countries. Could that be because, among other things, that people who live in poor countries tend to be more religious than those who live in rich countries?

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Kirkus Reviews — Happy News and Sad News

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I was saddened to hear that the venerable Kirkus Reviews is going to close after 76 years. There seem to be mixed feelings about the news in the publishing world. The New York Observer notes, “Kirkus reviewers were a famously grouchy lot who did not give compliments easily, but when they smiled upon something it did not go unnoticed.”

I’m saddened both because the news reflects the challenges that continue to dog the business models of many media instututions today, and because one of the last pieces Kirkus published was a favorable review of The Hidden Brain.


A disturbing but enlightening look at the power of the unconscious over human action and decision-making. Why did virtually everyone on the 88th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center survive on 9/11, while almost all of those on the 89th floor perished? Washington Post behavior columnist Vedantam uses that question to demonstrate how even the strongest willed can be subject to their unconscious minds. Sometimes this agency is for the good; often, however, our unconscious biases lead us into error. Shunning Freudian interpretation for more recent, evidence-based science,
Vedantam cites studies in the United States, Canada and Europe that demonstrate how people are easily misled into acting on biases they would be shocked to learn they had. An honor box in a British office’s coffee room fills faster when a printed request for contributions is accompanied by a pair of watchful eyes. More harmful, people tend to rate the intelligence or competence of a total stranger downward when they are merely proximate to—not necessarily interacting with—an overweight person. Transsexuals who become men improve their lot while those who become women suffer economically and socially, all other aspects of their personalities remaining equal. School children of all races persist in applying positive attributes to white strangers and negative ones to people of color. These studies, Vedantam says, point out the tendency of humans to be ruled by the oceanic portion of our mind that keep us functioning in a complex world, while the conscious mind attends to only what it needs to—shockingly little in comparison. A tour into dark realms of the psyche by a personable guide.

— Kirkus Reviews

The Club Model of Terrorism

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I wrote a column in the Washington Post some time ago exploring the work of Eli Berman and David Laitin, who argued that terrorist groups function much in the manner of exclusive country clubs. (OK, minus the wine and golf. Presumably.) Recent accounts about the five young men from Virginia who were apprehended in Pakistan as they sought to join Al Qaeda dramatizes this idea — the men appear to have been rejected by the terrorist group on the grounds that they did not have sufficient credentials.

The club model of terrorism explains why terrorist masterminds are rarely betrayed by fellow members in the group, who stand to gain enormous financial rewards by betraying their masters. Unlike book clubs and other associations that make it easy for people to join and easy to leave, exclusive clubs are difficult to join and have high dues that make it difficult to stay. New members are rarely admitted unless they are able to demonstrate extraordinary commitment — often over long periods of apprenticeship — or have deep family connections with existing members. Exclusive clubs therefore produce very different kinds of human behavior than associations that are easy to join and easy to quit. They produce intense bonds of loyalty and tend to be extremely insular. It is these relationships that set the stage for the small group dynamics that prompt people to carry out actions that seem insane, depraved or bizarre to those of us on the outside.

These ideas are discussed in greater detail in a chapter called “The Tunnel” in my upcoming book, The Hidden Brain.