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Exposure to God Has an Unexpected Impact on Risk-Taking, Researchers Claim


"The word in and of itself is sufficient to put the idea in the back of your mind..."

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New research from experts at Stanford University claims that increased exposure to the "concept of God" can actually increase the likelihood that people will be willing to engage in certain types of risks.

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Researchers conducted seven experiments during which they found that reminders of God increased respondents'  risk taking in "nonmoral domains."

This was found more prominently among people who believe that a higher power provides protection and safety, according to the study's abstract.

The study, titled, "Anticipating Divine Protection? Reminders of God Can Increase Nonmoral Risk Taking," was published earlier this year in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The results were predicated upon the reactions of 136 subjects who were divided into two groups. The first group, which consisted of half of these individuals, was asked to read about God, and the other half was asked to read about planets, a subject not related to the Almighty, according to the New York Times.

From there, everyone was given two options: either look at a benign image comprised of dark colors or look at an image comprised of bright colors that they were told could do damage to their eyes.

The individuals in the second group were told that they would need to sign a release, as macular degeneration could result from staring at the colorful image. There was no real risk to staring at the second image, though respondents didn't know that at the time, according to the Times.

Researchers found, though, that, despite the perceived risk to their eyesight, 95.5 percent of the group that read about God was willing to risk their eyes, compared to 84.3 percent of those who read the non-theistic message.

Past research has found that mentions of God generally lead to less likelihood that respondents will engage in risky behavior, though those past studies have explored issues of moral importance, while this study dealt with more benign and nonmoral issues.

Interestingly, a separate analysis included in this latest research found that mentions of God in advertisements led to more intrigue in skydiving, but did not have the same impact on an advertisement for bribery, which is clearly a moral issue.

Another study included among the eight experiments explored what happened when God's divine protection seemingly failed respondents.

"When participants were first reminded of God and then took a risk that produced negative consequences (i.e., when divine protection failed to materialize), participants reported feeling more negatively toward God than did participants in the same situation who were not first reminded of God," the abstract reads.

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The study isn't definitive on these matters, though it does provide a lens into some intriguing effects of the concept of God on human behavior.

Study co-author Kristin Laurin, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, said that the concept of God helps people feel protected and safe, which could help account for the results.

"The word in and of itself is sufficient to put the idea in the back of your mind — and make people feel like they’re not vulnerable to the dangers of risks," she told the Times. 

The Times reported that the results could have implications for companies looking to get consumers to take more risks.

(H/T: New York Times)


Front page image via Shutterstock.com.

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