“I donated my brain, so when the time comes, they can make a study of it. The fact that I have not had any of this Alzheimer’s disease, or even an inclination so far is something they would naturally want to study.”
– Sister M. Celine Koktan, 97 years old in March 2009
“We’ve received over 500 brains.”
– Dr. Karen Santa Cruz, neuropathologist.
Can you imagine being asked to be part of a study where the researcher asks if you not only would be willing to take part, but would mind terribly donating your brain to be dissected after you’re gone?
That is exactly what was asked of the nuns participating. Of the 678 sisters in the original study about four dozen are still living. But researchers already have begun analyzing the more than 500 brains saved to dissect and study.
The nun study is one of the most dynamic and powerful studies on the impact of positive emotions and thoughts in the history of positive psychology. Researchers Danner, Snowdon, and Friesen (2001) from the University of Kentucky sampled the nuns, perfect subjects for a study because of the profound similarities around their physical health. They have similar, regularized diets, live together in similar surroundings, do not have children, and do not smoke or drink to excess. In other words, their physical backgrounds and conditions are about as controlled for as any group of human beings might be.
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