Study: Devout less stressed than non-believers
Leanne Larmondin, Religion News Service
June 25, 2010

Study: Devout less stressed than non-believers

Study: Devout less stressed than non-believers
Leanne Larmondin, Religion News Service
June 25, 2010

TORONTO — Religion may

provide a “buffer” allowing the devout to feel less anxiety when they make

mistakes, compared with non-believers, according to new scientific research.

Researchers at the

University of Toronto measured “error-related negativity” — people’s defensive

response to errors — and compared it to religious belief.

Their findings were

published in the journal Psychological Science.

In the experiments,

participants had electrodes measuring their brain activity as they performed

cognitive tests.

One test of 40 students involved making a

grammatically-correct sentence out of jumbled words; some of the sentences

contained words with religious connotations, like “sacred” or “divine.”

Another experiment required

participants to identify the color of words that flashed on a screen. Some

words were depicted in their correct color while others were not.

They were then asked to

quantify their belief in God on a scale of zero to seven.

The study found that those

who were religious or claimed belief in God “showed low levels of

distress-related neural activity” when they learned of their test errors,

compared with nonbelievers.

By contrast, atheists

demonstrated a “heightened neural response” and reacted more defensively when they

learned of their errors, wrote the study’s lead author, Michael Inzlicht, an

associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.

Inzlicht and co-author Alexa

Tullett added, “Thinking about one’s religion, consciously or otherwise, acts

as a bulwark against defensive reactions to errors; it muffles the cortical

alarm bell.”

The authors note that many “varieties

of belief” — not just religion — can produce a similar calming dynamic as long

as it provides “meaning and structure” to one’s life.

“If thinking about religion

leads people to react to their errors with less distress and defensiveness …

in the long run, this effect may translate to religious people living their

lives with greater equanimity than nonreligious people, being better able to

cope with the

pressures of living in a

sometimes-hostile world.”