Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Anxiety may be at root of religious extremism, researchers find

Date:
July 6, 2010
Source:
York University
Summary:
New findings show that anxiety and uncertainty can cause us to become more idealistic and more radical in our religious beliefs.

Anxiety and uncertainty can cause us to become more idealistic and more radical in our religious beliefs, according to new findings by York University researchers, published in this month's issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In a series of studies, more than 600 participants were placed in anxiety-provoking or neutral situations and then asked to describe their personal goals and rate their degree of conviction for their religious ideals. This included asking participants whether they would give their lives for their faith or support a war in its defence.

Across all studies, anxious conditions caused participants to become more eagerly engaged in their ideals and extreme in their religious convictions. In one study, mulling over a personal dilemma caused a general surge toward more idealistic personal goals. In another, struggling with a confusing mathematical passage caused a spike in radical religious extremes. In yet another, reflecting on relationship uncertainties caused the same religious zeal reaction.

Researchers found that religious zeal reactions were most pronounced among participants with bold personalities (defined as having high self-esteem and being action-oriented, eager and tenacious), who were already vulnerable to anxiety, and felt most hopeless about their daily goals in life.

A basic motivational process called Reactive Approach Motivation (RAM) is responsible, according to lead researcher Ian McGregor, Associate Professor in York's Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health. "Approach motivation is a tenacious state in which people become 'locked and loaded' on whatever goal or ideal they are promoting. They feel powerful, and thoughts and feelings related to other issues recede," he says.

"RAM is usually an adaptive goal regulation process that can re-orient people toward alternative avenues for effective goal pursuit when they hit a snag. Our research shows that humans can sometimes co-opt RAM for short term relief from anxiety, however. By simply promoting ideals and convictions in their own minds, people can activate approach motivation, narrow their motivational focus away from anxious problems, and feel serene as a result," says McGregor.

Researchers also measured participants' superstitious beliefs and deference toward a controlling God in order to distinguish religious zeal from meeker forms of devotion. "Anxiety-provoking threats sometimes also cause people to become paranoid and more submissive to externally-controlling forces, so we wanted to rule out that interpretation for our results," he says. Anxious uncertainty had no effect on either superstition or religious submission.

Findings published last year in the journal Psychological Science by the same authors and collaborators at the University of Toronto found that strong religious beliefs are associated with low activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that becomes active in anxious predicaments.

"Taken together, the results of this research program suggest that bold but vulnerable people gravitate to idealistic and religious extremes for relief from anxiety," McGregor says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by York University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Ian McGregor, Kyle Nash, Nikki Mann, Curtis E. Phills. Anxious uncertainty and reactive approach motivation (RAM). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010; 99 (1): 133 DOI: 10.1037/a0019701
  2. Ian McGregor, Kyle Nash, Mike Prentice. Reactive approach motivation (RAM) for religion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010; 99 (1): 148 DOI: 10.1037/a0019702

Cite This Page:

York University. "Anxiety may be at root of religious extremism, researchers find." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100706103404.htm>.
York University. (2010, July 6). Anxiety may be at root of religious extremism, researchers find. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100706103404.htm
York University. "Anxiety may be at root of religious extremism, researchers find." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100706103404.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Operators of recreational businesses on western reservoirs worry that ongoing drought concerns will keep boaters and other visitors from flocking to the popular summer attractions. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry fell under intense scrutiny. Now, small underground nuclear power plants are being considered as the possible future of the nuclear energy. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Heartbleed Hack Leads To Arrest

Heartbleed Hack Leads To Arrest

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A 19-year-old computer science student has been arrested in relation to a data breach of 900 social insurance numbers from Canada's revenue agency. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The breakthrough could mean a cure for some serious diseases and even the possibility of human cloning, but it's all still a way off. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins