"(Even) patients with epilepsy are less likely to pray or be regularly attend religious services than the general population," said Dr. Thomas Hayton of the University of Edinburgh.
Hayton and Dr. Laura Boylan, of New York University, presented the research Monday at the 127th annual meeting of the American Neurological Association.
Historically, epilepsy often has been linked to religious fervor, Hayton told United Press International. He noted Gospel accounts of St. Paul being "struck down on the road to Damascus or Joan of Arc hearing voices are often considered seizure experiences."
Boylan said some neurologists have theorized this religiosity-epilepsy link is most common among people with temporal lobe epilepsy, which accounts for about 30 percent to 40 percent of all epilepsy.
While Boylan said the patients in her sample "were more spiritual than most Americans," she said the results didn't find "a temporal lobe epilepsy personality." The increased spiritual feelings were present "across all types of epilepsy."
Boylan and Hayton attempted to quantify the "religious personality of epilepsy patients" by using a 39-question survey that quizzed people about their spiritual experience, asking them to rate statements such as "I feel God's presence" on a numeric scale with a score of 1 -- "Many times a day," to 6 -- "Never or almost never."
Lower total scores indicated "a greater religious experience," Hayton said. They compared scores from the epilepsy patients to responses from a national survey sample of about 1,400 Americans who were asked the same questions.
"People in the national sample said they prayed more often and went to church more often than the epilepsy patients," Hayton added, but the epilepsy patients reported a greater personal connection to God.
Dr. James McNamara, professor of neuroscience at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., and an internationally renowned epilepsy researcher, told UPI the study was "an interesting pilot study, but the findings would have to be confirmed with properly matched controls."
He noted Hayton and Boylan compared survey results from New York epilepsy patients to answers from a national sample, rather than a geographically matched sample.
Boylan agreed the lack of local controls is a weakness of the study.
McNamara also noted all the data are based on subjective responses but, nonetheless, the study did offer further evidence there is no temporal lobe epilepsy personality, which supports his own research.