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Does Belief in God Decrease the Motivation to Pursue Personal Goals?

"...simple reminders of God can diminish some types of self-regulation."


The majority of the world believes that a higher power exists. In fact, Dr. Kristin Laurin of the University of Waterloo in Canada, claims that 90 percent of people across the globe believe in the existence of "God or a similar spiritual power." But how does that belief impact personal decision-making?

Laurin, who is the lead author of a new study published by the American Psychological Association about the impact that belief in God has on human behavior, claims that her research is unique in its findings.

"This is the first empirical evidence that simple reminders of God can diminish some types of self-regulation, such as pursuing one's goals, yet can improve others, such as resisting temptation," Laurin explains.

At the heart of the research was the quest to see what would happen when people were reminded of the concept of "God." According to Laurin and her team, such a reminder can lead to a decrease in personal motivation to recognize one's goals. While this will likely be seen as a negative, the study also found that a belief in a higher power can help people resist temptation -- clearly a positive. Here's a description of the study:

Despite the cultural ubiquity of ideas and images related to God, relatively little is known about the effects of exposure to God representations on behavior. Specific depictions of God differ across religions, but common to most is that God is (a) an omnipotent, controlling force and (b) an omniscient, all-knowing being. Given these 2 characteristic features, how might exposure to the concept of God influence behavior? Leveraging classic and recent theorizing on self-regulation and social cognition, we predict and test for 2 divergent effects of exposure to notions of God on self-regulatory processes.

After examining 353 college students (average age of 19), the researchers were able to explore how the notion of God -- both directly and indirectly -- impacts personal motivation. Rather than focusing solely on the religious, the study also looked at those who don't embrace faith. has an example of the tests that were employed:

In one experiment, engineering students completed a "warm-up" word task. They were asked to form grammatically correct sentences using four words from sets of five. Some students were provided either God or God-related words (divine, sacred, spirit and prophet), while the control group used more neutral words (ball, desk, sky, track and box). Next, each student had to form as many words as they could in five minutes, using any combination of specific letters. The researchers determined the students' motivation level by the number of words they produced. The more motivated they were, the more words they produced. They were told that a good performance could help predict if they would succeed in an engineering career.

Weeks before this experiment, the students were asked if they believe that outside forces impact or have influence on their careers. These "outside forces" would include people, a higher power and other "beings" and would essentially account for anyone or anything exercising influence on the subjects' careers.

The participants who said that outside factors (like God) may have an influence over their career success, performed worse than those who used neutral words. Among those who did not believe in the influence of outside factors on their career success, there was no difference.

Perhaps the notion that God will protect individuals and provide for them -- something that is stated commonly in various faith systems -- offers a level of comfortability in which people didn't feel the pressure to push themselves so hard. In the end, while intriguing, this, of course, is only one lens into the impact that God has on personal achievement. Other studies may have different results and the explanations that add to understanding of this indicator are likely diverse.

For any critics who may assume that the study paints a negative view of faith and religion, another experiment that focuses upon temptation paints a different picture. Among participants who said that eating healthy food is important to them, fewer cookies were eaten after reading a short passage about God when compared to those who read a passage unrelated to a higher power. Considering that faith often inspires personal restraint, this is an intriguing finding.

According to researchers, the level of personal religious devotion didn't have any impact on the outcomes in any of the experiments. These results, among others, were published in the online version of the APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

(H/T: Science Daily)

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