Are you a self-proclaimed atheist? Then here's a spoiler - a University of Miami study has opined that religion assists people in exercising self-control and also in the attainment of long-term goals.
The study found that religious people have more self-control than their less religious counterparts. What's more, individuals who believe in God are better off at pursuing and achieving long-term goals.
University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough evaluated 8 decades worth of research on religion and found that religious beliefs and religious behaviors are capable of encouraging people to exercise self-control and regulate their emotions and behaviors, so that they can pursue valued goals.
"The importance of self-control and self-regulation for understanding human behavior are well known to social scientists, but the possibility that the links of religiosity to self-control might explain the links of religiosity to health and behavior has not received much explicit attention," said McCullough.
Religious people also have lower rates of substance abuse, better school achievement, less delinquency, better health behaviors, less depression, and longer lifespan.
The researchers found that when people view their goals as "sacred," they put more energy and effort into pursuing those goals, and therefore, are probably more effective at attaining them.
Moreover, religious rituals such as prayer and meditation affect the parts of the human brain that are most important for self-regulation and self-control.
Religious lifestyles help people to monitor their own behavior more closely, with the sense that God is watching their behavior.
McCullough said that the study provides better understanding of "how the same social force that motivates acts of charity and generosity can also motivate people to strap bomb belts around their waists and then blow themselves up in crowded city buses," he explained.
"By thinking of religion as a social force that provides people with resources for controlling their impulses (including the impulse for self-preservation, in some cases) in the service of higher goals, religion can motivate people to do just about anything," he added.
The study will appear Psychological Bulletin.