Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cool As a Cucumber

With the economic meltdown that's happening, is this study timely or what?

Believing in God might help religious people block anxiety when under stress, finds new research from the University of Toronto that looked at brain differences between believers and non-believers.

The studies, led by assistant psychology professor Michael Inzlicht, involved a small group of participants who answered questionnaires about their belief in God and their level of religious zeal.

The volunteers were then asked to perform a Stroop task -- a well-known psychological test that measures the reaction time while performing tasts such as identifying colours quickly. The subjects were hooked up to electrodes that measured activity in the area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is involved in emotion control and helps us to modify behaviour during an anxiety-producing event such as making a mistake.

Inzlicht's team found that those volunteers who considered themselves religious showed significantly less activity in the ACC compared to non-believers -- suggesting they were experiencing less anxiety during the test and when they made mistakes.

The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, the study found. "In fact, we did not find religious people made more errors -- they actually made significantly fewer errors, which was very interesting to us," Inzlicht told "We're not sure how to explain that yet."

I'm encouraged by this study. I know that I'm less stressed about most things than I would be if I didn't believe in God. There's just something reassuring in knowing that God loves us and he's in control. The big shocks in life are a lot easier to take when you can put them in an eternal perspective. This study suggests that even the little things in life like making a tiny error are easier to take too.

It was interesting reading the commentary around the story and the different takes from various news outlets. Funny how some of the atheists have outright rejected the study or just laughed at believers for being so committed to our delusions. There were plenty of references to Karl Marx' claim that religion is the opiate of the masses. However, one of the best comments was from a guy name Kris on CTV's message board:
"It may be that having this sense of meaning reduces their anxiety..."... or it may be that we were designed to operate optimally when we acknowledge the designer. Let's not overlook logical possibilities due to iconoclasm.
Well said.

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