Belief in God can be a powerful thing, people usually say, but a new research shows that the power may not be used to do good. A team of investigators found in a new research that people who had been primed before experiments to think about God were less likely to experience anxiety related to making mistakes. This correlation did not however hold true for individuals who did not believe in a higher power, the team behind the work says.
“Eighty-five percent of the world has some sort of religious beliefs. I think it behooves us as psychologists to study why people have these beliefs; exploring what functions, if any, they may serve,” explains study coauthor Michael Inzlicht, who is based at the University of Toronto-Scarborough (UTS). The other coauthor is colleague Alexa Tullett, who holds an appointment at the university as well.
“Thinking about religion makes you calm under fire. It makes you less distressed when you’ve made an error. We think this can help us understand some of the really interesting findings about people who are religious. Although not unequivocal, there is some evidence that religious people live longer and they tend to be happier and healthier,” adds Inzlicht. The research team came to these conclusions after analyzing the results of two different experiments, LiveScience
In the first one, test subjects had their brain activity recorded, after they had either written about religion, or solved a puzzle containing religious meaning. They were performing a computer task that was especially prone to errors, which is precisely why the research team used it. Results revealed a diminished blood flow to the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which plays an important role in regulating the body's states of arousal and alertness.
In the second experiment, researchers revealed that the discovery did not hold for atheists. In fact, they explain, these individuals, once primed with God-related concepts, began to exhibit an increased flow of blood to the ACC following the task. Atheists were therefore more distressed, and the experts believe that this happened because not believing in God makes such people more prone to experiencing a lot of distress following bad decisions or events.
“We think this can occur with any meaning system that provides structure and helps people understand their world,” the investigators say. Details of their work appear in the latest issue of the esteemed medical journal Psychological Science, which is published by the Association for Psychological Science (APS).