Saturday, January 3, 2009

Religious belief and self-control

Two psychologists from the University of Miami studied the effects of religious belief on self-control. After studying the (surprisingly lengthy) history of research on psychology and religion, these researchers examined why religious adherents were more self-disciplined than the non-religious. To cut to the chase for you, dear reader, the researchers found:
Religious people, he said, are self-controlled not simply because they fear God’s wrath, but because they’ve absorbed the ideals of their religion into their own system of values, and have thereby given their personal goals an aura of sacredness.
The theological justification of a God sitting-in-judgment is not the underlying reason believers are more self-controlled. As I understand it, the depersonalization and sacramentalization of individual value systems creates the psychological mechanism for higher self-control. Said differently, the believer faithfully abdicates ownership of their personal value system, instead incorporating what, in his/her mind, constitutes a higher, transcendent value system. This transcendent value system then increases self-controlling behavior. Fascinating.

What about non-believers? The author of the news analysis, admittedly not particularly religious, asked the researchers what non-religious people could do to attain similar cognitive-behavioral effects:
So what’s a heathen to do in 2009? Dr. McCullough’s advice is to try replicating some of the religious mechanisms that seem to improve self-control, like private meditation or public involvement with an organization that has strong ideals.

... He suggested that nonbelievers try a secular version of that strategy.


Anonymous said...

or you could replicate other behaviors, like flying planes into buildings, be-headings, abortion bombings, etc...

Darren Staley said...

First, I do not find this study valid at all. What is to keep the subjects from lying?

Second, what is the line between self-control and self-righteousness?

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with anonymous to some degree here. Of course if you subscribe to a religious ideology that says, for instance, drinking is a sin, it will most likely make you more apt to not drink. There is also the social structure that religion brings, if something is thought immoral by your religion, there will likely be peer pressure to refrain from that behavior. Like the joke: Why should you always bring two Baptists fishing? If you bring one, he'll drink all your beer. Aside from the obvious argument made by anonymous (that "giving their own personal goals an aura of sacredness" can lead to people believing that their heinous acts are just) I would argue that self control can easily become self denial. How many homosexuals who have "absorbed the ideals of their religion" are living unfulfilling and self destructive lives in the closet?

Matt F.

Anonymous said...

Says the atheist who is up drinking at 3:45 in the morning.

Matt F.