Religion and confidence

March 17, 2009 at 11:48 pm (personal, science)

Here is an article which shows that people with firm religious convictions have less activity in a part of the brain associated with anxiety when getting questions wrong in a test.

On a monitor, subjects see a colour spelled out in letters that either correspond to or contradict the meaning of the word – for example, red spelled out in red letters or blue spelled out in yellow letters, for instance. Volunteers must press a button to indicate the colour of the letters.

The students with strong religious beliefs, as measured by their agreement with statements such as “My religion is better than others” or “I would support a war if my religion supported it”, exhibited less ACC activation than students with less fervent beliefs.

Having read the article it seems to me that it’s simply a case of, people who are generally less anxious and less worried about getting things wrong, are less likely to have doubts about their faith too. I don’t see any reason to think that one causes the other but rather that they are probably just both aspects of the same confident personality.

As an anxious, neurotic person, I kinda envy people like that. I’ve met plenty of them. I suppose at one time I might have thought they were more mature, had a stronger faith, and so on, and aspired to be more like them. Now I think it’s probably just a basic personality difference. Many people – believers and non-believers alike – may look down on me for my religious ambiguity, but I don’t look down on myself, and I’d like to hope God wouldn’t. It’s the way I’m wired.

We just have to take what we can get. I enjoy pondering and if it’s prompted by underlying existential anxiety that is only abated by deep reflection and searching, it doesn’t feel like much of a burden to bear. The worst of my anxiety is when I deny myself this opportunity. Mainstream religion tends to have that effect.

I wouldn’t rule out being religious again, but I’d probably be non-denominational. I admire people that march to their own drum and I hope one day I will have the courage of my convictions to do that, in work, as well as in spiritual practice.



  1. Lisa said,

    After recent events Sarah, I really sympathize with your sensitive nature. Too often wished to be like my sister’s crowd who probably scored wonderfully on that test. Then again you and I wouldn’t be as deeply introspective either, and we’d probably be really self-absorbed. I love you Sarah!

  2. Sarah said,

    Lisa, I think we have to learn to like who we are! I can totally sympathise with what you’ve been through lately. But I’m glad you’re not shallow and haven’t followed the crowd. It takes bravery to forge your own path. We make mistakes along the way but they don’t have to break us. I know you will be happy one day. I can see it!

  3. Sarah said,

    Wow what an interesting post! I think you and me are very similar. It doesn’t make life easier being like this but we certainly learn alot along the way.

    And I think your level of soaking up a religion DOES depend on your personality. Take me and my own sister. We have had the same exposure to Islam, but she is outgoing and confident and I am not. For her it has always been easy and she just gets on with being a Muslim but for me it has sometimes been an emotional struggle – something that she just doesn’t get. She tells me that I think about things too much and she’s absolutely right. But I just can’t help my incessant need to question things, to put everything into context.

    ….Sarah, so many posts to read and its a lovely day outside!

  4. Sarah said,

    Hi Sarah,
    good to know this makes sense to you too. I’m getting to thinking that I want to stop overthinking and perhaps start to use my heart a little in these matters.
    So it’s been a lovely day in London? I’m in USA at the moment!

  5. Sarah said,

    Yes just follow your heart and go with the flow. xx

  6. Achelois said,

    This is a wonderful post. I just left a comment on another post in which I mentioned Muslim women converts and mental issues. I guess religious convictions and a set of rules, checklists and beliefs (which Islam is so big on) actually give these women mental confidence that they so desire. Wonderful, isn’t it?

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