Religion may have evolved because of its ability to help people exercise self-control

Dec 30, 2008

Self-control is critical for success in life, and a new study by University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough finds that religious people have more self-control than do their less religious counterparts. These findings imply that religious people may be better at pursuing and achieving long-term goals that are important to them and their religious groups. This, in turn, might help explain why religious people tend to have lower rates of substance abuse, better school achievement, less delinquency, better health behaviors, less depression, and longer lives.

In this research project, McCullough evaluated 8 decades worth of research on religion, which has been conducted in diverse samples of people from around the world. He found persuasive evidence from a variety of domains within the social sciences, including neuroscience, economics, psychology, and sociology, that religious beliefs and religious behaviors are capable of encouraging people to exercise self-control and to more effectively regulate their emotions and behaviors, so that they can pursue valued goals. The research paper, which summarizes the results of their review of the existing science, will be published in the January 2009 issue of Psychological Bulletin.

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"The importance of self-control and self-regulation for understanding human behavior are well known to social scientists, but the possibility that the links of religiosity to self-control might explain the links of religiosity to health and behavior has not received much explicit attention," said McCullough. "We hope our paper will correct this oversight in the scientific literature." Among the most interesting conclusions that the research team drew were the following:

• Religious rituals such as prayer and meditation affect the parts of the human brain that are most important for self-regulation and self-control;
• When people view their goals as "sacred," they put more energy and effort into pursuing those goals, and therefore, are probably more effective at attaining them;
• Religious lifestyles may contribute to self-control by providing people with clear standards for their behavior, by causing people to monitor their own behavior more closely, and by giving people the sense that God is watching their behavior;
• The fact that religious people tend to be higher in self-control helps explain why religious people are less likely to misuse drugs and alcohol and experience problems with crime and delinquency.

McCullough's review of the research on religion and self-control contributes to a better understanding of "how the same social force that motivates acts of charity and generosity can also motivate people to strap bomb belts around their waists and then blow themselves up in crowded city buses," he explained. "By thinking of religion as a social force that provides people with resources for controlling their impulses (including the impulse for self-preservation, in some cases) in the service of higher goals, religion can motivate people to do just about anything."

Among the study's more practical implications is that religious people may have at their disposal a set of unique psychological resources for adhering to their New Year's Resolutions in the year to come.

Source: University of Miami

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User comments : 10

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sheber
3 / 5 (2) Dec 30, 2008
Self control is what people have when they are not coerced by religious control. As he said himself "religion can motivate people."
deatopmg
3 / 5 (2) Dec 30, 2008
We all evolved as spiritual beings but religion was developed as a way for a few to unite and control the many in the name of that spirituality.
Yuko
5 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2008
On the macro scale, religion has served to guide society. Religion discourages particular behaviors while encouraging others. Religion reinforces particular values and social organizations while denouncing others. All this guides society by limiting possibilities for people (conceptual, emotional/expressive, and physical possibilities).

To claim that religion does not assist in controlling the self and to present self control and religious control dualistically narrows this discussion by utilizing the same kind of exclusionary thinking that religion relies on. I understand what sheber is trying to convey: if religion is controlling the self, then the self is not controlling the self. However, we must question if the self can even exist outside of the influence of society, if self can exist outside of social context.

A child that has developed outside of human society is called a feral child, a being which we would not consider human, a being which has no sense of self or other and a limited ability to reflect (that is step outside the realm of real-time experience). A self develops through social interaction and through introduction to other human beings ideas and creations. It is impossible to be completely independent of our social institutions (whether they exist physically or in the mind), for %u201Cwe%u201D would not exist without them. Autonomy is an impossible goal as we are even slaves to our language, which we cannot think outside of. The closest one may ever come to avoid being controlled is to expose one%u2019s self to as much ideas and experiences as possible.
nyny3a
1 / 5 (2) Dec 31, 2008

guess what, strong religious beliefs motivate all terrorist.
Fogy
2.5 / 5 (4) Dec 31, 2008
Sad. What crap is being published these days. You can just feel how desperate he is to shape his theories around his beliefs.

In addition to his inept logic, incredibly he adds that %u201CWe know that farming was a response to a big population explosion.%u201D %u201CWe had to start farming in order to feed all the mouths that were running around.%u201D

Yes. First the population exploded, THEN they invented farming. Thankfully the population could wait long enough for the extra food to grow.

What foolish nonsense. This idiot has a degree?! Who in their right mind would publish this pseudoscience?
Fogy
1 / 5 (1) Dec 31, 2008
Mythology evolved because parents were ignorant and could not explain natural events to their inquisitive children. Religion evolved from mythology because leaders could not control the populace without fear.

There. Religion's evolution in a nutshell. Was that so hard?
KBK
not rated yet Dec 31, 2008
Mythology evolved to show what was really going on the in the background for the intrepid inner and external explorer. The kind without limits, self imposed and otherwise.

It is 'esoteric sign' for those who know how to see it for what it is.

The rest? They will dismiss my comments as gobbledygook. For they don't know. Which is the point of it being expressed as it is. Hide the hidden in plain sight - for those who have eyes to see. The rest will miss the multi-layered messages.

This is the same as those kid's cartoon films that have adult jokes in them that the kids don't understand. Religion and some of the situations that surround it (in the broader sense), can and does have hidden messages that the more advanced folks will understand and the rest will entirely miss.

Is this comment specifically about religion? No. It's about all of the 'mythology' that is attached to it. For example, few people today know that the creators of modern Christianity are the Romans, who combined pagan astrological based mythology with early christian lore..and created Christianity as we know it today.

Specifically, the 'Christmas' thing, is actually NOT at all on Christ's birthday, but December 24th is the Pagan celebration of the God Saturn.

It only gets deeper from there out and will take many a year to sort out If you have what it takes, that is. The big clue?: Man has the stupidity and the audacity to try and limit the world, universe, dimensionality, and reality according to the given talking monkey's individual intelligence level.

One must remember that the monkey is still inside and running around and calling the shots..with a brick tied to the gas pedal in perpetuity (forever) ..and attempting to crowbar your life into it's own personal desires- not that of your intellect. Realize this -everyday..all day-...and that's one small step to getting your head clear.

For the instant pleasure folks who are living in a self-created world of low attention and low patience when it comes to thinking and solutions, all this will seem like bunk. Yet not a word of it is.

Religion is also debased as a control system for and of the masses by both wiser and more brutal men. The is nothing 'godlike' about religion in the modern western world. Not one bit. It is system perverted in the extreme ---by man.

Stay away from it.

However, it is far more correct to be spiritual on one's own accord.

Distrust all organized religion. Religion in the personal sense, is all about elevation of the spirit to higher levels, done by the self-realizing individual. One capable of seeing the signs for what they are.

Get it? I hope some of you do.
thinking
2 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2009
Why is it that the most misunderstood, hated and persecuted religion in the world is Christianity? Most of the posting on this article show a lot the misunderstandings I talk about.
JoeFek
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2009
The self-deluded can be controlled - how profound!

Notwithstanding the claim that the results may be invalid, it seems like they only reported the "good" things. No mention of the "bad" stuff, like hatred of those with a different religious faith, or no faith, racism, or whatever. It also sounds like the survey group was Christians. Nothing about muslims, hindus, etc. Until/unless they do a more wide spectrum survey, this is really only good for starting fires.

This is pseudo-science at its most useless. Unspecific qualifications for the study group, no control group to test for parallel results, vague definitions of what is being tested for, meaningless conclusions.
ObsidianPunk
not rated yet Jan 07, 2009
To the poster above, McCullough conducted what is called a meta-analysis. The beginning of the article communicates this in laymens term - he researched studies dating back 8 decades in a variety of academic fields of research to look for trends. These type of studies are conducted all the time and are very useful for, as stated, observing trends in research for a particular topic. In the case of this research study, religion. In light of that, he did not need to actively develop a study group or control group and other normal parameters for a typical research study because the studies he researched provided all of that for him and so much more, including their own conclusions. This sort of study is far from pseudo science (meta-analysis studies), although I agree that when researching trends in research, the researchers own beliefs and bias may taint what sort of trends they observe. Hopefully in this case he used proper statistical measures to limit bias and produce accurate results for sound conclusions that future researchers can use to conduct more traditional research studies (since meta-analysis studies are useful for their ability to bring to light important areas of future research).

For more on meta-analysis look it up on wikipedia.

We can only wait until the paper is publish to see if his research is only on Christianity or if he used studies that generalized to other religions or solely focused on different religions (say 10 on Islam, 10 on Hinduism, 10 on Christianity, 10 on Satanism, etc ...). I feel he did look at other religions otherwise he would only be claiming that "religious" Christians have more self control (Christians who actively practice their faith). Also, the things he says in this article about his research do not sound "Christian" focused; although, he does refer to God in singular but I think that is expressive of his own beliefs and that of the target audience he is trying to communicate through this article - monotheistic. I would hope his research to be more broad for such claims he makes.

On the whole, I agree with his findings and find the whole study fascinating. I wonder if the self control is a result of the emotional and physical restraint against natural urges religious people are required to have in order to achieve their religious goals. They are so used to holding back their urges that they easily, although unconsciously, apply it to other areas of their lives. Then again I think about the wild and lusty "preacher's daughter" so suppressed she's just ready to bust out. lol. I really would like to read the published paper and see what other, but not so newsworthy, trends he has found.

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