And God Said, No Worries

People with faith simply don’t get as stressed out as people without it

| November-December 2010


Caitlin Kuhwald /

Researchers know that religious people tend to live longer, healthier lives (tough luck, atheists), but knowledge of exactly how belief translates into vitality has proved to be as elusive as the nature of faith itself. Fresh research offers a tantalizing clue, Tom Jacobs blogs for Miller-McCune (June 21, 2010). It appears that people with faith simply don’t get as stressed out as people without it.  

University of Toronto psychologist Michael Inzlicht and collaborator Alexa Tullett set out to study “error-related negativity,” measurable in the brain as an instantaneous response associated with defensiveness over mistakes. They tested 39 college students from diverse spiritual backgrounds using electrodes and a series of games. Some were exposed to sacred terminology before they performed certain tasks, some were not. In the end, theist students who were primed to think about their faith exhibited the least neural distress after making mistakes. Atheists, on the other hand, were ablaze with defensive activity.  

The negative health effects of stress are, of course, well known. If having faith blunts the distress of errors, the researchers believe, spiritual people may have an advantage in coping with our topsy-turvy world. Intriguingly, they point out that this stress-busting effect isn’t exclusive to religious faith: Any belief system that provides a stable window on the world will do.

12/24/2010 2:26:37 PM

There does seem to be quite a few stressed out Christians. In some denominations more than others.

12/24/2010 2:26:32 PM

There does seem to be quite a few stressed out Christians. In some denominations more than others.

12/24/2010 2:08:28 PM

There does seem to be quite a few stressed out Christians. In some denominations more than others.

11/30/2010 9:26:48 AM

JP, Would you say NPRish? Introduce a provocative topic and present an arguement in your favor, usually "liberal." I feel that sometimes but I remind myself there are plenty of venues that do the same in reverse. Gear it towards what sells? I suppose. Then I have to ask myself are the topics relevant to the times or are they making them relevant. Are many of these issues things that are surfacing because the taboo's have worn off as the times change? Do these discussions shed new light, incite new views, perhaps even change a few minds? I guess that is up to the reader. When I feel there is a lack of research I do my own. Perhaps that is part of UTNE's mission statement. Oh, and make money too.

11/30/2010 7:21:23 AM

Am I the only one who senses an emerging glibness in some of these Utne articles? A tendency toward provocation, a milder sort of what one can see on certain cable channels. Many assertions but no references to back them up. I don't have enough information to judge, my opinion would be based on little evidence. But I have faith we'll see more expressions on whatever sells or generates eyeballs, Minimally informed opinions prevail.

11/29/2010 8:02:31 PM

Once again a great idea badly posted (from a writing standpoint for me.) Simply put life is not simple (pun intended.) The infinite number of unsolvable questions posed in our minds is boggling let alone those from outside sources. Anyone assuming they have the answer speaks to a rather narcissitic tendency. But (yeah I know the dreaded word) why not a self serving attitude. After all we have been dropped here by the omnipotent parent only to fend for ourselves. Hmmmm..

11/29/2010 6:18:26 PM

Rodeen, An addendum to address your question regarding PTSD. As this condition has gained great attention in recent times I am sure you are aware of the obvious causes. However, the people affected is only becoming a part of our worldy conversation because we are realizing it the social pandemic it seems to be. We attribute it to war, genocide, horrific natural disasters etc. but are realizing it happens to people in all types of situations who attribute it to how life works ( I don't disagree.) But it affects us. Experiences we have been taught to "get over" weigh heavily on our lives and denying that only escalates the rebound effect. In some respects my childhood was great and in others it was horrific (relatively.) I am sure there are people on this forum that can easily top it. But that does not mean they do not need an avenue to work through. PTSD applies to cops, fireman, nurses, doctors, sanataion guys finding bodies, medical receptionists turning away children for no insurance and the two Marines convicted at the end of " A Few Good Men" to name a few. Science tells those who listen black and white is neither.

11/29/2010 4:46:45 PM

Rain City Paul I agree. You reiterated my point using a different comparitive but still made the point. Rodeen, you need to start over. I don't know what challenge or previous e-mail you speak of. To address the atheist issue I will say (any reader chime in here if you differ in opinion) that UTNE reader is a publication put out to challenge different ideas, incite thought and explore possible ways of viewing things from a cultural or social dynamic other the readers own (translation liberal.) In my experience most atheist's I have talked to are not really atheists. They are agnostics with a personal leaning wanting to counter the overwhelming bias (mostly, in this country) towards having to believe or be ostracized. Theist or Atheist, fact is nobody knows. Fortunately, that leaves the door open for plain old spirituallity. Something rarely ever argued and something almost always felt by all beings of all forms. I will leave the aliens topic alone for now but weren't they called illegal immigrants at one time?

11/29/2010 2:46:01 PM

please excuse the question mark. Ha. I am turribl

11/29/2010 1:43:59 PM

Big difference there Occum? I was extremely curious how you would acquire post traumatic stress disorder from what you described. I've decided you are ducking my challenge? I offered my email so I would not bore the forum or lack there of. One thing that is interesting is it seems to me that for as much spirituality content as UTNE provides most of the people on these forums either god hating athiest or just athiest. I would never take much interest in something I dont believe in. For example aliens. I know a lot of people are interested in aliens have ideas about aliens, think aliens live among us. think aliens control the govt. on and on. I would not read a story on aliens or people who beleived in aliens if you paid me. Okay there is my two cents.

11/29/2010 12:53:37 PM

Please excuse the spelling in my post. Ouch!! I am showing my P.A.D. (post apologetic disorder.)

rain city paul
11/29/2010 12:51:04 PM

1) A person under the influence of Heroin is virtually stress-free, as long as supply is not cut off. 2) The problem with a stress-coping mechanism based upon the existence of imaginary friends is that one is dependent upon non-reality.

11/29/2010 12:49:39 PM

I have heard these results before and do not doubt them (although I must consider Mr. Kimballs post.) However, I haven't seen any research as to why this dynamic exsists so I will throw a theory of my own out there. Please keep an open mind. My mother is a practicing Catholic and has been all her life. She has always had the ability to alleviate bad sometimes terrible life situations using God's will as reasoning for these circumstances. She also always had the capablity to go to bed ever night by 9pm explaing "tomorrow is another day things will be better."I love and admire her for being able to turn off the negativity and concentrate on her six children. Unfortunately, her resignation took it's toll on her and her children residually. No one went to jail or took drugs, everyone is college educated and we all have what I consider is PTSD which manifests itself on a low grade. Her father lived to be 95 and had the same characterics except he was a devout non church goer. So is it religion or a psycholical ability attributed to religion? I will take my answer off the air.

lauri lumby
11/29/2010 10:52:01 AM

As a Professional Spiritual Director and teacher/facilitator of all things spiritual, I would expand this idea beyond the boundaries of "religion". We are quick in our society to assume "spiritual" and "religious" to be the same thing....quite the contrary. Spirituality is inherent in each and every being, religion is how we choose to ritualize and dogmatize these experiences within community. I do agree that people who maintain a regular spiritual practice (whether religious or not) have better coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. I do not believe, however, that you have to be "religious" to have obtained these coping strategies. Lauri Lumby Authentic Freedom Ministries

david kimball
11/29/2010 8:49:48 AM

The beginning sentence of this article states that "Researchers know that religious people tend to live longer, healthier lives" but this does not take into account secular countries in Europe. These results are only for the US. Whoops, there I go again into my defensive activity crouch.