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Letter to the Editor   |    
Coalitional Affiliation Rather Than Religiosity Might Explain the Heritability of Church Attendance
Henri-Jean Aubin, M.D., Ph.D.; Philip A.P.M. Gorwood, M.D., Ph.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2010;167:215-216. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09101403
View Author and Article Information
Villejuif, France
Paris, France

Dr. Aubin has received sponsorship to attend scientific meetings, speaker's honoraria, and consultant fees from Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, McNeil, Merck-Lipha, Pierre-Fabre Sante, and Sanofi-Avenits. Dr. Gorwood has received grants from Eli Lilly and Servier; he has received speaker's honoraria from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Lundbeck, Servier, and UCB-Pharma; and he has served on advisory boards for Janssen, Lundbeck, Servier, and Wyeth.

This letter was accepted for publication in November 2009.

Accepted November , 2009.

Copyright © American Psychiatric Association

To the Editor: We were struck by the high level of genetic loading of church attendance in adulthood (58% of variance) reported by Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., and John Myers, M.S., in the October 2009 issue of the Journal (1). Church attendance was a factor associated with less alcohol and nicotine consumption in the study. A simple, easily defined behavior, church attendance could be interpreted as a proxy of religiosity, which is a much more complex, multidimensional construct (2). In fact, church attendance belongs to the social religiosity dimension, one of the seven religiosity dimensions derived from a factor analysis the authors performed for their questionnaire data in a previous study (2). The other six religiosity dimensions were general religiosity, involved God, forgiveness, God as a judge, unvengefulness, and thankfulness.

Religiosity as a whole has been shown to be heritable (3) and has been hypothesized to be an adaptation or by-product of our evolution (4). Specific neural correlates to religiosity (i.e., God's perceived level of involvement, God's perceived emotion, and doctrinal/experiential religious knowledge) have been demonstrated (5). For such complex phenotypes, it is very difficult to demonstrate that there is no intermediate factor that more clearly explains the role of genes. Indeed, in the study by Kendler and Myers (1), subjects were all Caucasian male twins born in Virginia, 85% of whom were Protestant, mostly fundamentalist or Baptist. It is not clear that one would find similar results in subjects from another sociocultural context, since regular attendance at religious services can vary widely, from 1.7% (Estonia) to 62.3% (Turkey) in a recent European cross-cultural survey (6). It could then be speculated that the heritable trait captured by church attendance could rather be defined as the disposition to perform socially meaningful rituals in order to reinforce coalitional affiliation, as proposed by Boyer (4). Although this hypothesis is also difficult to prove, the selection (throughout generations) of people with high capacity to reinforce group coalition makes sense, at least regarding breeding potential and surviving in social groups.

Kendler  KS;  Myers  J:  A developmental twin study of church attendance and alcohol and nicotine consumption: a model for analyzing the changing impact of genes and environment.  Am J Psychiatry 2009; 166:1150—1155
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Kendler  KS;  Liu  XQ;  Gardner  CO;  McCullough  ME;  Larson  D;  Prescott  CA:  Dimensions of religiosity and their relationship to lifetime psychiatric and substance use disorders.  Am J Psychiatry 2003; 160:496—503
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Koenig  LB;  McGue  M;  Krueger  RF;  Bouchard  TJ  Jr:  Genetic and environmental influences on religiousness: findings for retrospective and current religiousness ratings.  J Pers 2005; 73:471—488
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Boyer  P:  Religious thought and behaviour as by-products of brain function.  Trends Cogn Sci 2003; 7:119—124
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Kapogiannis  D;  Barbey  AK;  Su  M;  Zamboni  G;  Krueger  F;  Grafman  J:  Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief.  Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2009; 106:4876—4881
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Nicholson  A;  Rose  R;  Bobak  M:  Association between attendance at religious services and self-reported health in 22 European countries.  Soc Sci Med 2009; 69:519—528
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
References Container
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References

Kendler  KS;  Myers  J:  A developmental twin study of church attendance and alcohol and nicotine consumption: a model for analyzing the changing impact of genes and environment.  Am J Psychiatry 2009; 166:1150—1155
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Kendler  KS;  Liu  XQ;  Gardner  CO;  McCullough  ME;  Larson  D;  Prescott  CA:  Dimensions of religiosity and their relationship to lifetime psychiatric and substance use disorders.  Am J Psychiatry 2003; 160:496—503
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Koenig  LB;  McGue  M;  Krueger  RF;  Bouchard  TJ  Jr:  Genetic and environmental influences on religiousness: findings for retrospective and current religiousness ratings.  J Pers 2005; 73:471—488
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Boyer  P:  Religious thought and behaviour as by-products of brain function.  Trends Cogn Sci 2003; 7:119—124
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Kapogiannis  D;  Barbey  AK;  Su  M;  Zamboni  G;  Krueger  F;  Grafman  J:  Cognitive and neural foundations of religious belief.  Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2009; 106:4876—4881
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
Nicholson  A;  Rose  R;  Bobak  M:  Association between attendance at religious services and self-reported health in 22 European countries.  Soc Sci Med 2009; 69:519—528
[CrossRef] | [PubMed]
 
References Container
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