Over 400,000 people visited Farnam Street last month to learn how to make better decisions, create new ideas, and avoid stupid errors. With more than 98,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub. To learn more about we what do, start here.

Does Thinking About God Make it Easier to Exert Self-control?

Jonah Lehrer on religious thoughts and self-control:

People are better able to resist their desires when thinking about God. In a series of clever experiments, Canadian scientists demonstrated that triggering subconscious thoughts of faith increased self-control.

We still don’t know why inklings of religion increase self-control.

The scientists describe thoughts of God as providing the mind with “important psychological nutrients” that “refuel” our inner resources, much like Gatorade replenishes the body after a long run.

But how does religion do this?

The scientists think that faith-based thoughts may increase “self-monitoring” by evoking the idea of an all-knowing, omnipresent God. Previous research, which showed that priming people to think of a vengeful, angry God reduces the likelihood of dishonesty, supports this view. If God is always watching, we better not misbehave.

We need rules

“People need a system of rules to live by,” he says, adding: “People drive slower when they see a police car. God is a bit like that police car: Thinking about Him makes it easier to do the right thing.”

Continue Reading

Still curious? Jonah Lehrer is the noteable author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, How We Decide, and Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Thanks for reading Farnam Street.