Which Was First, Religion To Help With Self Control Or Self Control Codified As Religion
    By News Staff | December 30th 2008 12:00 AM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Religious people have more self-control than non-religious counterparts, says a study by University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough and he says this is why religious people may be better at pursuing and achieving long-term goals and also 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 is in the January 2009 issue of Psychological Bulletin.

    "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.


    I know plenty of people that are religious and have no self control. They rely on Jesus to keep them from doing whatever it is they have the urge to do. When they give in to their baser instincts from time to time it is because they turned away from god momentarily and so couldn't help themselves. Even preachers find themselves cheating and breaking up their families and preacher's kids end up marrying at 14 because of pregnancy and divorcing soon after because they weren't taught to have self control within themselves but to rely on Jesus to control them.

    I would have to see the data set on this one before I would believe a word of it.

    The big question is, how do the authors divide "religious" from "non-religious" people? Self-evaluation? Regularity of services attendance? Pietometer?

    I do know some very solid and upstanding religous people, but virtually EVERY professed athiest I know (granted it's a small sample) is a person of the highest moral fiber.

    Religion, for whatever good it does for some, was, is, and will continue to be the refuge of many a scoundrel.

    P.S. Compare this study to others showing that teens who take "virginity pledges" have sex and unplanned pregnancies at exactly the same rate as those who don't.

    This is especially interesting when you consider that the crime rate is higher in religious countries than in non.
    It looks like there was some bias introduced into the results. The evidence does not support their conclusions.

    only a scientist would ask such a question, requiring an evaluation of two very limited assumptions both of which illustrate a basic ignorance of the nature and structure of human consciousness ... sigh ...

    if you really love this subject, you would be well-advised to consult almost any text on advaita vedanta, yoga, buddhist philosophy, which cover all these subjects which western science seems so reluctant to actually look at ...

    enjoy, gregory lent