In Science’s ongoing (and in my humble opinion, often fruitless) attempts to understand and to quantify “Religion,” we now have a new study linking religious behavior with self-control.
The study recently was conducted by University of Miami psychology professor Michael McCullough and concludes that religious people have more self-control than do their less religious counterparts. According to ScienceDaily:
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."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," McCullough told ScienceDaily. "We hope our paper will correct this oversight in the scientific literature."
In this research project, McCullough evaluated eight 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.
"Sacred" Goals Get More Energy
Among the conclusions the research team drew were:
- 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.
Click here for the ScienceDaily article.