Connection between Religion and Psychology
Some People Excel in Understanding the Relation between Religion and Psychology and Some Don’t. Which One Are You?
Do you believe that the concept of religion is traditional, and has no or very little relation with the new world? No, the fact is not true. Even today, people from different countries associate themselves with a religious group. A survey conducted in 2015 found that almost 84% of the world population reported to follow and practice some forms of religion and belong to at least one religious group. However there remaining 16% reported that they do not follow any kind of organized religion.
You might find a decline in the religion in countries like Australia, New Zealand and USA. However, Christianity continues to shape the culture and politics of these societies. Have you ever followed the holidays you celebrate? Yes, we follow the Christian calendar and holidays. Of course, religious symbols and traditions continues to have utmost importance in secularised societies.
Now, religious beliefs and practices affect the minds of the people. Do you want to know how? Read on to find out how religions affect our brain, health and psychological conditions.
Responding to God Subconsciously
Finnish researchers and psychologists conducted a study to examine the difference between the responses of religious and non-religious people to God. The researchers further used electrodes and measured the amount of sweat produced while reading statements like; I dare to ask God my parents meet with an accident or I dare to ask God that I die in cancer.
Shockingly, both the believers as well as the non-believers produced the same amount of sweat while they read the sentences. What does this result indicate? The result suggested both the groups were equally concerned and anxious about the consequences of their dares. Even another study conducted produced same results. What can you conclude from these results? These finding suggest despite the people denied the existence of God, behaved similarly to the religious people.
Are the nonbelievers lying that they reject God? No, rather psychologists term these as “contradictory behaviours” that arise in parts while you live in theistic culture. This difference in attitudes between the two groups, gives rise to “implicit” and “explicit” attitudes.
Understanding the Differences between Explicit and Implicit Attitudes
Explicit attitudes refer to those attitudes that have a conscious level and people can form a self-report whenever asked. For instance, statements like, milk keeps me fit or God has no existence. In comparison to this, people perceive little awareness or even unaware about their implicit attitudes. People fail to connect the learned associations in their minds. They fail to associate the term “milk” with “fitness” and “God” with “existence”.
Mental Health and Religion
People following a specific religion have similar believes and practices. Besides, religion provides people to believe in, as well as provides a sense of structure. These facets have a positive impact on a person’s mental health. Several research conducted proved that religious groups following a particular religion, have lower suicide rates, and substance abuse including consumption of drug and alcohol.
Another study conducted in 2013, on patients having psychological problems suggests that the followers of religion respond better to treatments of anxiety and depression. Dr. Harold G. Koeing reviewed 93 studies on religion and health. He found that lower symptoms of depression and other psychological disorders among the followers of a religion.
Religion and Our Brain
It’s understood that how religion affects mental health. But, what is the relation between our brain and the religion we follow? A study conducted in 2010 by Newberg and colleagues included brain scans of Tibetian Buddhist followers and Franciscan nuns. Researchers found that the long-term mediators and religious people have more activities in their frontal lobes compared to the long-term mediators.
People asked to strengthen the prefrontal cortex, had a great change in their behaviour. Researchers found them to be calmer, reacted less and had capability to cope with stress easily. Did prayers changed their brains? Not at all. Rather, it might be possible that these differences existed before these people started practicing their prayers.
How does Religion Affects Our Health?
The religious beliefs and teachings back the modern day teachings and practices present in the society. These practices include love, compassion and forgiveness, which according to Newberg, integrates into our brains. If the neurons in your brain connect often with each other, they naturally become stronger in compassion. Hence, when a particular religion advocated compassion, the neural circuits also become stronger.
If you often have positive thoughts, feelings and emotions, definitely, that will help in reducing stress, anxiety and other psychological problems. Some religions prevent their followers to involve into high-risk behaviours such as drinking, smoking or even over indulging into food. If you steer away from these behaviours will stimulate your brain functions.
Criticising the Aspects
However, some people criticized that religion always cannot have positive effects on psychological health. Rather, the impact of religion depends completely on the beliefs, of a person and if a larger community accepts it. For instance, if a religion enforces hating the non- believers, rather than compassion and love, it will affect our brains similarly. This impact in turn, will have adverse effect on the psychology of people, thereby stimulating the release of stress hormones and increasing stress.
Similarly, if people believe that the practice of addiction is a curse from God, they would ger never seek treatment. When people accept the fact that God loves them, people are happier. However, researchers found higher level of anxiety and distress in people with who question God’ love and think God abandoned them.
Religion can have both positive and negative effects on the psychological well-being of a person or a group or community. The teachings, views, thoughts and practices illustrates the mental health of individuals. If a religion teaches hatred towards non-believers, the people following the religion will likely suffer from stress, anxiety and other psychological disorders.
Whereas, the followers of those religions spreading love and compassion among both its believers and non-believers, are likely to have lower release of stress hormones and have a better psychological conditions. Moreover, the followers of the later religion will enjoy their work and life and have a steady psychological health and development in the future.