Researchers concluded that thinking about God can help people resist temptation, but can also diminish motivation in a study released last week.
A total of 353 college students were asked to perform a variety of tasks to determine if thinking of God impacts mental processes. The group was comprised of both believers and non-believers from different faiths and backgrounds.
“More than 90 percent of people in the world agree that God or a similar spiritual power exists or may exist,” the study’s lead author, Kristin Laurin, Ph. D., of the University of Waterloo in Canada, said in a statement. “This is the first empirical evidence that simple reminders of God can diminish some types of self-regulation, such as pursuing one’s goals, yet can improve others, such as resisting temptation.”
As a warm-up exercise, participants were asked to arrange sentences using four of five given words. Some groups were given “God-related” words, while others were not.
The participants were then given five letters and asked to create as many words from those letters as possible. Researchers believe the number of words each participant created accurately measures his or her motivation.
The study found that those who believe in God and who were given God-related words, performed poorer than those who believe in God but were given neutral words.
Researchers found no difference in the performance of those who do not believe in God.
The conclusion drawn by researchers is that when someone believes in God and is reminded of God, they are more inclined to believe that their performance is out of their control. Those who believe they are in full control of their success are more motivated, the study concluded.
But thinking of God does have benefits for believers, researchers found.
In another experiment, participants were given a plate of cookies. One group was given a passage about God, while the other was given a passage unrelated to God. Participants who had previously identified as healthy eaters ate less cookies after reading the God-related passage than those who read the neutral passage.
This trend was noticed only in those who said they believed in God, researchers said.
“Basically what we found was that when people think about God, it seems to help them resist temptation,” Grainee Fitzsimons, professor at Duke University, told CNN. “It is the mindset that he is always watching and judging that motivates people to behave well.”
The study was published last week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.