Study: religion correlates with greater self-control

An interesting article in the New York Times on New Year’s resolutions discusses the role of religion:

[Dr. Michael McCullough’s] professional interest arose from a desire to understand why religion evolved and why it seems to help so many people. Researchers around the world have repeatedly found that devoutly religious people tend to do better in school, live longer, have more satisfying marriages and be generally happier.

These results have been ascribed to the rules imposed on believers and to the social support they receive from fellow worshipers, but these external factors didn’t account for all the benefits. In the new paper, the Miami psychologists surveyed the literature to test the proposition that religion gives people internal strength.

“We simply asked if there was good evidence that people who are more religious have more self-control,” Dr. McCullough. “For a long time it wasn’t cool for social scientists to study religion, but some researchers were quietly chugging along for decades. When you add it all up, it turns out there are remarkably consistent findings that religiosity correlates with higher self-control.”

As early as the 1920s, researchers found that students who spent more time in Sunday school did better at laboratory tests measuring their self-discipline. Subsequent studies showed that religiously devout children were rated relatively low in impulsiveness by both parents and teachers, and that religiosity repeatedly correlated with higher self-control among adults. Devout people were found to be more likely than others to wear seat belts, go to the dentist and take vitamins.

But which came first, the religious devotion or the self-control? It takes self-discipline to sit through Sunday school or services at a temple or mosque, so people who start out with low self-control are presumably less likely to keep attending. But even after taking that self-selection bias into account, Dr. McCullough said there is still reason to believe that religion has a strong influence.

Read the whole thing. The self-selection issue is an interesting one and has some theological implications (“we will prove them herewith”); it also ties into enduring to the end. On the other hand, we believe that Christ’s atonement gave Him the power not just to forgive us but to change our very natures — to make us better than we are. I think our start is quite simple — “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” — but we have to follow where the Lord leads us.  ..bruce..

3 thoughts on “Study: religion correlates with greater self-control

  1. Hmmm. How do I say this. “Duh!” Religion is all about control. For a while, I thought that the point of the Gospel was love, but then I realized that it was about self-control. The problem is that not all people have the ability to control themselves, and that makes religiosity painful for them to attempt. Discovering that opened my eyes to the reality that religion doesn’t work for everyone.

  2. Actually, almost any form of achievement (religious, artistic, intellectual, athletic, professional) is about self-control and self-discipline. ..bruce..

Leave a Reply