Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Death anxiety increases atheists' unconscious belief in God

Date:
April 2, 2012
Source:
University of Otago
Summary:
When non-religious people think about their own death they become more consciously skeptical about religion, but unconsciously grow more receptive to religious belief, new research suggests.

New University of Otago research suggests that when non-religious people think about their own death they become more consciously skeptical about religion, but unconsciously grow more receptive to religious belief.

Related Articles


The Department of Psychology research also found that when religious people think about death, their religious beliefs appear to strengthen at both conscious and unconscious levels. The researchers believe the findings help explain why religion is such a durable feature of human society.

In three studies, which involved 265 university students in total, religious and nonreligious participants were randomly assigned to "death priming" and control groups. Priming involved asking participants to write about their own death or, in the control condition, about watching TV.

In the first study, researchers found that death-primed religious participants consciously reported greater belief in religious entities than similar participants who had not been death-primed. Non-religious participants who had been primed showed the opposite effect: they reported greater disbelief than their fellow non-religious participants in the control condition.

Study co-author Associate Professor Jamin Halberstadt says these results fit with the theory that fear of death prompts people to defend their own worldview, regardless of whether it is a religious or non-religious one.

"However, when we studied people's unconscious beliefs in the two later experiments, a different picture emerged. While death-priming made religious participants more certain about the reality of religious entities, non-religious participants showed less confidence in their disbelief," Associate Professor Halberstadt says.

The techniques used to study unconscious beliefs include measuring the speed with which participants can affirm or deny the existence of God and other religious entities. After being primed by thoughts of death, religious participants were faster to press a button to affirm God's existence, but non-religious participants were slower to press a button denying God's existence.

"These findings may help solve part of the puzzle of why religion is such a persistent and pervasive feature of society. Fear of death is a near-universal human experience and religious beliefs are suspected to play an important psychological role in warding off this anxiety. As we now show, these beliefs operate at both a conscious and unconscious level, allowing even avowed atheists to unconsciously take advantage of them."

The paper co-authors also included Jonathan Jong, currently at the University of Oxford, who undertook the experiments as part of his PhD thesis, and Matthias Bluemke, currently at the University of Heidelberg. Associate Professor Halberstadt was Jong's supervisor.

The findings from the three experiments will be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Jonathan Jong, Jamin Halberstadt, Matthias Bluemke. Foxhole atheism, revisited: The effects of mortality salience on explicit and implicit religious belief. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2012 [link]

Cite This Page:

University of Otago. "Death anxiety increases atheists' unconscious belief in God." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 April 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402094322.htm>.
University of Otago. (2012, April 2). Death anxiety increases atheists' unconscious belief in God. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402094322.htm
University of Otago. "Death anxiety increases atheists' unconscious belief in God." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402094322.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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