TORONTO — Canadian researchers have found that strong religious convictions can lower stress and enhance the performance of basic tasks.
A team in Toronto put 28 students through tests measuring both levels of religious observance and stress caused by making mistakes on a test.
The newly published study (pdf file) by professors at the University of Toronto and York University points to religious believers out-performing non-believers on cognitive tasks.
“The more religious they were, the less brain activity they showed in response to their own errors,” said University of Toronto assistant psychology professor Michael Inzlicht, lead author of the study. “They are calmer when they make errors.”
Researchers asked subjects, who were from a variety of faith backgrounds, to complete a “religious zeal” questionnaire. Subjects were then given a test asking they name the color of the letters in words such as “red” or “blue” (in which the word “red” may appear in blue letters).
Using electrodes, researchers monitored brain activity and found subjects with high levels of religious observance experienced less activity in the part of the brain that governs anxiety and helps modify behavior. The more religious zeal individuals showed, the better they did on the test.
“The more they believe, the less brain activity we see in response to their own errors,” Inzlicht said. “(Religious people) were much less anxious and stressed when they made an error.”
The study also found that even moderate religious belief resulted in lower levels of anxiety than among non-believers.