Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years

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this story . adapted from How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion, by David DeSteno.

even though I Raised Catholic, for most of my adult life, I didn’t pay much attention to religion. Like many scientists, I assumed that it was based on opinion, conjecture, or even hope, and therefore irrelevant to my work. That work is running a psychology lab that focuses on finding ways to improve the human condition, using the tools of science to develop techniques that can help people cope with the challenges they face in life. But in the 20 years since I started this work, I’ve realized that psychologists and neuroscientists are discovering a great deal about how to change people’s beliefs, feelings, and behaviors—support them when they grieve. How to make them more ethical, how to let them find connection and happiness – echoes the ideas and techniques that religions have been using for thousands of years.

There has often been a difference between science and religion. But if we remove theology—the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and so on—from the day-to-day practice of religious belief, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we are left with is a series of customs, customs and feelings that are themselves the result of experiments of sorts. For thousands of years, these experiments, in contrast to sterile laboratories, have been carried out in the filthy thicket of life with what we might call spiritual techniques – tools and procedures meant to soothe, move, explain, or otherwise tweak. Mind. And studying these techniques has shown that parts of religious practices, even when removed from the spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in measurable ways that psychologists often seek.


For example, my lab has found that people who practice Buddhist meditation for short periods of time become compassionate. After only eight weeks of study with Buddhist lamas, 50 percent of those we randomly assigned to meditate daily Involuntarily helped a stranger in pain. Of those who didn’t meditate, only 16 percent did so. (In fact, the stranger was an actor we hired to use crutches and wear removable legs while trying to find a seat in a crowded room.) The compassion was not limited. strangers, Although; This also applies to enemies. one more Study showed that after three weeks of meditation, most people refrained from taking revenge on anyone who insulted them, in contrast to those who did not meditate. Once my team saw these profound effects, we began to look for other links between our previous research and existing religious rituals.

For example, gratitude is something we have studied closely, and is a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God mode any Waking up every day prayer. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found that it made people more virtuous. one in Study While people could get more money by lying about the consequences of turning a coin, the majority (53 percent) cheated. But that figure dropped dramatically for those we first asked to count their blessings. Of these, only 27 percent chose to lie. We have also found that when we feel gratitude towards a person, fate, or God, people become more helpfulhandjob more generous, Even more more patient.

Even very subtle actions – such as walking together in time – can have a significant impact on the mind. We see uniformity in almost every religion around the world: Buddhists and Hindus often chant together in prayer; Christians and Muslims regularly kneel and stand together during worship; Jews often sway, or handcuffsWhen praying together. These actions belie a deeper purpose: building relationships. To see how this worked, we asked pairs of strangers to sit at each other at tables, put on headphones, and then tap a sensor on the table in front of them every time they heard a tone. For some of these pairs, the order of the vowels coincides, meaning they may be tapping their hands together. For others, they were random, meaning that hand movements would not be synchronized. Later on, we created a situation where one member of each pair got stuck doing a long and difficult task. Not only this, those who were shaking hands in one voice were also feeling greater connection and compassion with Of their partner who was now working hard, 50 percent decided to lend a hand to the partner—a huge increase over the 18 percent who decided to help without coordinating.

The combined effects of such simple elements—those that change how we feel, what we believe, and what we can depend on—accumulate over time. And when they are included in religious practices, research has shown that they may have protective properties. Regularly participating in religious practices Alleviates anxiety and depression, enhances physical health, and even reduces the risk of early death. These benefits don’t just come from normal social interaction. there is something specific to spiritual practices Self.

The way these practices benefit our body and mind systems can increase the joys and reduce the pains of life. Some parts of religious mourning rituals include elements that science has recently found to reduce grief. Healing rites contain ingredients that can help our bodies heal themselves by reinforcing our expectations of healing. Religions did not find these psychological shifts and shocks long before scientists arrived on the scene, but often packed them together in sophisticated ways that the scientific community could learn from.

What surprised me and my colleagues when we saw evidence of the benefits of religion was a sign of our arrogance, born out of a common belief among scientists: all religions are superstitions and, therefore, have little practical benefit. could. I will admit that we are unlikely to learn much about the nature of the universe or the biology of disease from religion. But when it comes to finding ways to help people deal with issues around birth and death, morality and meaning, grief and loss, it would be strange if thousands of years of religious thought had nothing to offer. .

Over the years, as I look at the results of my own studies and those of other researchers, I have noticed a subtle connection between science and religion. Now I see them as two approaches to improving people’s lives that often complement each other. It is not that I have suddenly gained faith or that I have a new agenda to protect the religion. I firmly believe that the scientific method is a miracle, and provides one of the best ways to test ideas about how the world works. Like any good scientist, I am following the data without any bias. And it’s polite.

Instead of ridiculing religion and starting psychological investigations from scratch, we scientists should study rituals and spiritual practices to understand their impact, and, where appropriate, create new techniques and treatments informed by them. Doing so does not require accepting a given theology – just an open mind and respectful attitude. Not doing so risks betraying our principles. If we neglect that body of knowledge, if we refuse to take these spiritual techniques seriously, to study them as sources of ideas and inspiration, we slow down the progress of science itself. and limit its ability to benefit humanity. It is by talking across the boundaries that usually divide us—science versus religion, one belief versus another—that we will find new ways to make life better.

from the book How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion by David DeSteno. Copyright © 2021 by David DeSteno. Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission to be published on 14 September by.

wired opinion Publishes articles by external contributors representing a wide range of perspectives. read more opinions Here, and see our submission guidelines Here. Submit an op-ed at [email protected].

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