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Faith: Part of a Healthy Diet

June 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Health


If you’re having a rough day, chances are, you’re anxious. And it’s no wonder. Living in today’s fast-paced world can fill the mind with restless thoughts. It’s an issue that ultimately boils down to one question: How do I deal with my stress? If you tour the streets of London, England, a simple solution might drive by. As part of a new awareness campaign, public transit buses now flaunt an advertisement professing, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Dr. Michael Inzlicht is a psychologist specializing in stigma, self-control, and social neuroscience.

The atheistic advice gives the impression of a problem, solved. But a new study published in the scholarly journal Psychological Science, suggests you might want to try doing something else – have faith.

The joint research article, “Neural Markers of Religious Conviction,” shows that believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress. “The timing is certainly an accident,” says Michael Inzlicht, assistant professor of psychology at University of Toronto Scarborough, who assures his study has nothing to do with current global uncertainties. “My colleague wondered if religious people responded differently to threatening information, and I was more interested in self-control and how anxiety plays a part in that,” Inzlicht says. Whatever the researchers’ motives, their results show that a divine higher power can be healthier than none at all.

In two simple experiments, religious and non-religious people were invited into a laboratory to have their brain activities measured while performing tasks. “The more they believed in God, the less brain activity they showed when making errors,” Inzlicht says, suggesting that people are OK with their mistakes when they believe in a greater purpose. “Where there is uncertainty, some people can become paralyzed. But religion offers a blueprint of what the world means, and this can offer some relief for people.”

People who read the study will probably agree, the findings come at a relevant time. Aside from a financial crisis that will hopefully end in the near future, the planet has never been in worse ecological shape – at least not during our existence. And films like Bill Maher’s Religulous poke fun at almost every world religion. Of course ,the UK’s atheist bus campaign is the most relevant phenomena. While Inzlicht admits his research doesn’t say whether or not God exists, he does think the advertisement is funny, since his results show the exact opposite. “We found that for those people who believe in God, they’re the ones who don’t worry and just live their lives.”

Nonetheless, the study raises a multitude of questions that open up a whole new existential can of worms. Looking back throughout history, a person can’t help but wonder where religion came from in the first place. “I can theorize it sprung up to understand and explain the world, where nature was frightening and difficult to predict, but that has nothing to do with our study,” Inzlicht says. “Based on other research, I can definitely say people who are religious gain physical benefits and live longer.” In any case, despite the fact that everyone has a unique opinion about the existence of a supreme being, there’s one thing we should be able to agree on – faith is good for your health.


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