Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby of University of Miami have reviewed eight decades of research and concluded that religion improves self-control. Their findings will be published in the next Psychological Bulletin.
“Brain-scan studies have shown that when people pray or meditate, there’s a lot of activity in two parts of brain that are important for self-regulation and control of attention and emotion,” said Dr. McCullough in the New York Times. “The rituals that religions have been encouraging for thousands of years seem to be a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control.”
Studies showed that it was not enough to be “spiritual”, in the modern sense of feeling connected to something higher, etc. People who were “spiritual”, but not religious, did not show as much self-control. Less surprising, studies also showed that merely going to church or participating in a religion for mundane reasons of appearance or social acceptability had no discernible effect on self-control.