Belief in God reduces anxiety: study

March 5th, 2009 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, March 5 (IANS) Belief in God helps reduce anxiety and minimise stress, says a new Canadian study.
The study by Toronto University researchers says that the brains of believers and non-believers work differently under stress.

Belief in God has a calming effect on the brain which helps it block anxiety and minimise stress easily, it says.

As part of their study, researchers led by psychology professor Michael Inzlicht performed a Stroop task - a test of cognitive control - on participants while hooked up to electrodes that measured their brain activity, a university statement said.

Compared to non-believers, religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of the brain.

ACC is that portion of the brain that helps modify behaviour by signalling when attention and control are needed, particularly during anxiety-producing events like making a mistake.

The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made, the university statement said.

“We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They are much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error,” said Inzlicht.

“These correlations remained strong even after controlling for personality and cognitive ability,” he said, adding that religious participants made fewer errors on the Stroop task than their non-believing counterparts.

Though their findings show religious belief has a calming effect on people, anxiety is a “double-edged sword” which is at times necessary and helpful, he said.

“Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you’re paralyzed with fear. However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we’re making mistakes.

“If you don’t experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don’t make the same mistakes again and again?” said Inzlicht.

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