A new study finds that religious people are better able to forgo immediate satisfaction in order to gain larger rewards in the future.
The study, published online in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, is the first to demonstrate an association between religious commitment and a stronger preference for delayed, but more significant, rewards, said principal investigator Dr. Michael McCullough, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami.
“It’s possible to analyze virtually all contemporary social concerns, from excessive credit card debt to obesity, as problems of impulsivity,” he said.
“So the fact that religious people tend to be less impulsive has implications for the sorts of decisions they make with their money, time, and other resources.
“Their tendency toward less impulsive decision-making might even be relevant to their stands on public policy issues, such as whether governments should be seeking to reduce their expenditures on public services and entitlement programs in the current economic environment.”
In the study, 277 undergraduate students, from a variety of religious denominations and ethnic backgrounds, chose between receiving a small monetary reward that was made available immediately (for example, $50 today) or a larger reward that was available only after a longer period of time had passed (for example, $100 six months from now). Participants’ commitment to their religious beliefs and institutions was also measured.
The data shows that the extent to which the participants follow religious teachings positively correlates with their ability to delay gratification.
The findings suggest that through religious beliefs and practices, people “develop a more patient style of decision-making,” McCullough said.
Source: University of Miami