In what ways does belief in God change the way people think and respond to situations? Some recent university research studies are shedding some light on this question.
Thinking about God
University of Toronto Scarborough researchers measured brain patterns when people were thinking about God and found that their brains responded differently to when they were thinking about other things. A 2010 report on the study said that when believers think about God they feel less distressed. For example, they take setbacks in their stride and react with less distress to anxiety-provoking mistakes. Researcher Michael Inzlicht:
Thinking about religion makes you calm under fire. …. there is some evidence that religious people live longer and they tend to be happier and healthier.
It turns out that when atheists think about God they feel increased distress, perhaps because this contradicts the meaning systems they embrace. This perhaps explains the anger that some internet atheists show when discussing religion. “Maybe atheists would do better if they were primed to think about their own beliefs” Inzlicht said.
Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have found that those who believe in a benevolent God tend to worry less and be more tolerant of life’s uncertainties than those who believe in an indifferent or punishing God. One can perhaps assume that non-believers are midway between these two types of believers on the worry scale.
We found that the positive beliefs of trust in God were associated with less worry and that this relationship was partially mediated by lower levels of intolerance of uncertainty
The lead author, David H. Rosmarin recommends that psychiatrists take more account of patients’ religious beliefs.
None of this necessarily points to belief in God being true. But it does suggest some conclusions:
- Religious belief, especially in a merciful God as in christianity, has some benefits in peace of mind and mental and emotional wellbeing. This may help explain why faith tends to have positive health and happiness benefits.
- The findings are at least consistent with the thought that belief in God may be true – certainly we would wonder about belief in a God that had adverse health impacts!