Category: Religion

Pro-Environmental Beliefs Are Less Likely To Lead To Action Among Those Who Believe In A Controlling God

By Emma Young

We all know that it’s vital that we take action to reduce the harm we do to the environment. So understanding the barriers to such action is critical, too. A new paper, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, identifies a potentially important one: when people believe that it’s important to protect the environment, they’re less likely to act on those beliefs if they’re more religious.

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Reminders Of God Don’t Actually Encourage Us To Take Risks, Replication Study Finds

 By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

“…Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.”

This passage, pulled from Isaiah 41.10, is just one example of the Bible’s many references to God’s power to protect. And this protective persona might affect you much more than you think. At least that’s what emerged in 2015, when researchers from Stanford University published a string of studies finding that people prompted to think of God made significantly riskier decisions — whether or not they were religious.

The scientists’ explanation, promptly picked up by the media, was that thinking of God makes risk-taking less intimidating because it primes us to expect divine protection. As of recently, however, this narrative has not stood up to scrutiny. The first pre-registered replication of this study, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that the effect was probably no more than an exciting false positive.

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Religious People In The US — But Not Elsewhere In The World — Have More Negative Attitudes Towards Science

By Matthew Warren

It’s a common view among the public — and certain intellectuals — that science and religion are in fundamental opposition to each other, despite claims to the contrary. As Richard Dawkins put it in his essay The Great Convergence, “To an honest judge, the alleged convergence between religion and science is a shallow, empty, hollow, spin-doctored sham.”

Part of this conviction that science and religion cannot be reconciled comes down to a belief that the two doctrines are psychologically incompatible. How can someone put their faith in a divine being while also trying to make sense of the world through careful observation and hypothesis testing?

But a new study in Social Psychological and Personality Science casts doubt on the idea that religious people tend to be less scientifically-minded. Jonathon McPhetres from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues find that while the link between religiosity and negative attitudes towards science is pretty robust in the United States, in other countries that relationship is very different.

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People Who Have Lost Their Religion Show “Residues” Of Religious Past In Their Thoughts And Behaviours, Study Claims

By Emma Young

What happens to people when they lose their religion? Do they start to think and act just like people who have never believed — or do they keep some psychological and behavioural traces of their past?

Given the number of people worldwide who report no current religious affiliation (more than 1 billion) and predictions that this will expand into the future, it’s important to explore just how homogenous, or otherwise, this group is, argue the researchers behind a new paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Processes and Individual Differences.

Daryl R. Van Tongeren at Hope College, US, and his colleagues conclude from their studies that there is in fact a “religious residue” that clings to people who cease to identify as religious. “Formerly religious individuals differed from never religious and currently religious individuals in cognitive, emotional and behavioural processes,” the team reports.

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People Who See God As A White Man Tend To Prefer White Men For Leadership Positions

By Matthew Warren

When you picture God, who do you see: a young black woman, or an old white man? Chances are it’s the latter — and a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that that image has its consequences.

Across a series of seven studies, at team led by Steven O Roberts at Stanford University found that the way that we perceive God — and in particular our beliefs about God’s race — may influence our decisions about who should be in positions of leadership more generally. Continue reading “People Who See God As A White Man Tend To Prefer White Men For Leadership Positions”

Does Religion Really Cause Violence?

GettyImages-184088243.jpgBy Jesse Singal

To many, the statement “Religion causes violence” seems intuitively true. After all, one can easily summon to mind a huge number of examples, from the Crusades to warfare connected with early Islam, to the September 11th attacks and sectarian warfare in the Middle East, and on and on and on. Some liberal-minded people, particularly those of an atheist bent, will rattle off these examples as clear proof that religion is a force for evil in the world.

But what if it’s more complicated than that? What if there’s less evidence than one might think that religion causes violence? That’s the provocative thesis of an upcoming new article in Contemporary Voices: St Andrews Journal of International Relations, a journal launched in April of 2018 (available as a preprint), authored by Joshua Wright and Yuelee Khoo at Simon Fraser University. 

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Suppressed Thoughts Rebound, Which Could Explain Why Ultra-religious Teens Have More Compulsive Sexual Thoughts – And Are Less Happy – Than Their Secular Peers

GettyImages-481381140.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

A well-known effect in psychology is that if you try to suppress a thought, ironically this can make the thought all the more salient – known as the “rebound effect“. What are the implications of this effect for highly religious teenagers who have been taught to believe that sexual thoughts are taboo? Before now there has been little research on the rebound effect in this context, but in a recent paper in The Journal of Sex Research, Yaniv Efrati at Beit Berl College, Kfar-Saba, Israel, presents evidence that the rebound effect could explain why orthodox Jewish teens have more compulsive sexual thoughts and fantasies than their secular peers. What’s more, his results suggest this mental dynamic might be responsible for the religious teens’ lower scores on self-reported wellbeing.

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Dutch study finds minorities are more prone to belief in conspiracies

GettyImages-870287834.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Psychologists have already established that minority groups are particularly likely to endorse conspiracy theories that involve them. For instance, the idea that AIDS was concocted in a lab to plague black people or that birth control is black genocide have been shown to have particular traction within African-American communities. It’s thought this is because members of disadvantaged groups find comfort in explanatory frameworks that appear to account for the various factors that beleaguer them. But new research from VU Amsterdam and published in Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that belonging to a minority identity, in this case being Muslim in the Netherlands or a member of an ethnic minority in that country, doesn’t merely lead to a belief in conspiracy theories related to that specific minority identity, but stokes an appetite for conspiracies in general. 

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New research reveals our folk beliefs about immortality – we think the good and bad will live on, but in very different ways

GettyImages-821819658.jpgBy guest blogger Dan Jones

When, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony delivers his funeral oration for his fallen friend, he famously says “The evil that men do lives on; the good is oft interred with their bones.” 

Anthony was talking about how history would remember Caesar, lamenting that doing evil confers greater historical immortality than doing good. But what about literal immortality? 

While there’s no room for such a notion in the scientific worldview, belief in an immortal afterlife was common throughout history and continues to this day across many cultures. Formal, codified belief systems like Christianity have a lot to say about the afterlife, including how earthly behaviour determines our eternal fate: the virtuous among us will apparently spend the rest of our spiritual days in paradise, while the wicked are condemned to suffer until the end of time. Yet, according to Christianity and many other formal religions, there’s no suggestion that anyone – good, bad or indifferent – gets more or less immortality, which is taken to be an all-or-nothing affair.

This is not how ordinary people think intuitively about immortality, though. In a series of seven studies published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Kurt Gray at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues, have found that, whether religious or not, people tend to think that those who do good or evil in their earthly lives achieve greater immortality than those who lead more morally neutral lives. What’s more, the virtuous and the wicked are seen to achieve different kinds of immortality.

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What are the psychological effects of losing your religion?

GettyImages-497892997.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

For many, their religion is a core part of their identity, the meaning they find in life, and their social world. It seems likely that changing this crucial aspect of themselves will have significant psychological consequences. A devout person would probably predict these will be unwelcome – increased emotional distress, isolation and waywardness. A firm atheist, on the other hand, might see the potential positives – perhaps the “deconvert” will grow in open-mindedness and thrive thanks to their newfound free thinking and spiritual freedom.

A new study in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality is among the first to investigate this question systematically and over time. The findings, which are focused on Protestant Christians, paint a complex picture. At least for this group, there is no single pattern of changes associated with losing or changing one’s religious faith, and the predictions of both the devout person and the atheist are, to some extent, accurate.

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