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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.”

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

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