Scientific research: believers have lower levels of anxiety

A group of Toronto scientists has found that God has an effect on a believer’s state of mind. Here it is.

New research by University of Toronto and York University professors show that people who consider themselves religious, compared to non-believers, show reduced levels of stress and anxiety. As a result, believers perform better on cognitive tests.
The brain activities of people were monitored with electrodes. Results showed that subjects with more religious zeal experienced less activity in the anterior cingulated cortex (part of the brain that experiences anxiety and helps modify behaviour). The more religious people were, the better they did on the test.

The University of Toronto reports:

“You could think of this part of the brain like a cortical alarm bell that rings when an individual has just made a mistake or experiences uncertainty,” says lead author Inzlicht, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They’re much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error.”

In a second test, subjects were asked to rate their belief in God. Fervent belief in God showed results of lower levels of anxiety than among non-believers. Members of one group were asked to write down why their religion was important. A different group of people were asked to describe a topic (e.g., their favorite season). Those who discussed religion showed lower activity levels in the part of the brain associated with anxiety.

The Globe and Mail reports:

“[Religious people] were much less anxious and stressed when they made an error,” said Michael Inzlincht, assistant professor at the University of Toronto and co-author of this study. “I don’t think this has to do with fundamentalism, it’s something deeper—religion provides meaning in people’s lives.”

I wonder why some of the Christian brothers and sisters I know seem like some of the most anxious people in the world. I guess we may all have our anxious moments.

The paper, appearing online in Psychological Science, was co-authored by Dr. Ian McGregor at York University, and by Jacob Hirsh and Kyle Nash, doctoral candidates at the University of Toronto and York University, respectively.

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