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Does being religious make you happier?

Does being religious make you happier?

Historians have widely regarded that the presence of supernatural forces have helped in the development of all human societies in recent history. A perfect example, as such, would be the United States of America. For instance, in the United States Constitution, the law of the land, our forefathers wrote that everyone has the god given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This event is just one of the many examples of how religious spheres play an influence in our everyday lives, even if we may not recognize, believe, or even care about them. 

However, psychologists over the last couple decades have found a strange phenomenon where people become more inclined to help one another with the added presence of God concepts.  

Over the last twenty years, psychologists have researched this effect and how people act  differently with the added presence of religion. Researchers have found varying results in the  past regarding how individuals act because of these God concepts. In one study, researchers  found individuals with no prior relationships interacted in a productive and cooperative manner  under the influence of religion. According to the study, this event was a result of the imagined  presence of the supernatural agents, along with some emotional ties and social responsibilities  found within creating a group (Atran & Norenzayan 2004).

Researchers also discovered  participants showing higher levels of generosity in an experimental cooperative pool game among religious men. And researchers uncovered that:

The highest levels of generosity and cooperation found within these individuals came from those who identified they were devout in their faith through daily communal prayer (Sosis and Ruffle, 2004).

However, some studies conducted of late have only found an accidental relationship. Which becomes caused by feelings of guilt. And dispositional empathy. Especially in a religious context. One study’s findings saw people not implicitly affected by these religious aspects. Rather, they concurred that it only caused prosocial behavior out of feelings of guilt. (Bering 2003,2006). Another study placed  participants in a room which supposedly had a ghost of a dead graduate present while they were  taking a test. Researchers found that individuals were less likely to cheat when in the presence  of a supernatural agent because explicit thoughts of this supernatural agent curbed their previous cheating behavior (Bering, McLeod, & Shackelford, 2005).  

This study expands upon the prior research by conducting a survey through the telephone in a casual manner.

Everyone was in the comfort of their own home. To confirm that no individuals could be made aware of any testing that was happening to avoid implicit biases during their questioning. They were all briefed about the intentions of the experiment and asked if they would like their results to be recorded afterwards. This experiment measures their responses to a hypothetical religious, or non-religious young adult organization to view their levels of generosity, and perceived generosity to show the impact of God concepts on prosocial behavior.  

In study 1, participants were asked in two groups, a religious, and a non-religious young adult organization. A scale from 1-7 how likely they would be to donate to the charity they were asked  about. Study 2 asked individuals how much they would be willing to donate of their own money  to this same hypothetical philanthropic organization. These methods were conducted to  determine whether the hypothesis that individuals under the influence of religion are more willing to donate on average. And donate more on average to philanthropic organizations with  religious influences than they would without the influence of religious concepts.  



A man holding several Eastern Orthodox pectoral crosses

The participants in this study were 36 college students who voluntarily participated in  their own time by telephone from the comfort of their own home. They are between 18-22 years  old. Gender was not recorded. 


All participants were not informed of the reasoning behind the two-question verbal survey to avoid implicit biases in the data collection. But they were all informed it would only  take a minute of their time through the phone and were briefed after the survey was completed  with the intentions of the study. All participants were asked if they were comfortable with their  answers being used. No participants objected to their answers being used. Each participant was  tested in the comfort of their own home and were all asked identical questions.

Nineteen individuals, chosen at random. Were asked how willing they would be to give to a Christian young adult organization. Another seventeen again chosen at random. Were asked how willing they would be to give to a young adult organization. They all answered how willing they were to  donate on a scale from 1-7. One being not at all, and seven being, they would unquestionably  donate. Additionally, all individuals were then asked how much they would be willing to donate. Ranging from 1-20 dollars, to the organization they were previously asked how willing they  would be to donate to. After the verbal survey was completed and answers were recorded. Results for both questions were averaged to determine whether our original hypothesis was  correct. 

The independent variable in this study was the addition or subtraction of the word Christian in the name of a hypothetical youth adult organization.

The dependent variables are the participants’ average willingness to donate for each organization, and their average physical donations to an organization. It is hypothesized that through the influence of religion, by adding ‘Christian’ to the name of a youth adult organization, individuals will be more willing to donate  on average, and will donate more money on average to philanthropic organizations with religious  influences than they would without the influence of religion. 


Given previous research, it was hypothesized that through the influence of religion  people are more willing to donate on average and will on average donate more than they would  to a non religious organization. The results show that on average individuals were willing to  donate at a rate of 3.89, on a scale from 1-7, to the Christian youth adult organization.

On the same scale, individuals were willing to donate at a rate of 3.29 to a youth adult organization. In addition, individuals asked to donate to the Christian youth adult organization gave an average donation of 90 cents, while individuals from the youth adult organization gave an average donation on average 58 cents. These results support the hypothesis that through the influence of religion, individuals on average are more willing to donate, and will donate more on average to a  philanthropic organization with the influence of religion than they would without the influence  of religion. 


The results of this experiment show that people who are asked to donate. Or are asked about their willingness to donate to an organization. Are more likely to donate to an organization with a religious affiliation rather than an organization without one. We found that our hypothesis was correct. Individuals are more willing to donate on average, and will donate more on average  to a Christian youth adult organization than they would to a youth adult organization. Even  though there was a small difference in the average willingness to donate and the average physical  donation between the hypothetical Christian youth adult organization and the youth adult  organization, the results do suggest that there is an effect that God concepts have on an  individual’s prosocial behavior. 

There are definitely some limitations in the study that could somewhat invalidate the results that were collected. Critics should be skeptical of the age range of participants in this study. A commonly fact, young adults around the world are less religious than previous generations. Based on this, the disparity in the results should be much greater than what the  findings were. The average willingness to donate. And the average donation for the participants asked to donate to the Christian youth adult organization would be greater if a larger sample size occured

. Such as a sample of adults ages 18-65 years of age. This limitation could easily be fixed by redoing the study. With participants who’s age-range represented the wider  demographic of religious beliefs in our world today. 18-22 year olds are more inclined than  older people to not associate themselves with any religious context. 


Another limitation in this study was the possible feeling of guilt that could have resulted. When asked if the person is willing to donate to a charitable foundation. For instance, after the experiment concluded one of the female participants. Who was asked if she would donate to the hypothetical Christian youth adult organization conferred that she felt uncomfortable not donating. Moreover, knowing how she personally practiced her faith. As well as her own involvement in a  religious youth group at her parish. Examples such as this demonstrate some emotions that could  have skewed the participants to answer the questions on the survey with scores that did not  reflect their true intentions.

This response in turn would result in the participants’ answers being larger than what they actually meant to give. It is almost impossible to negate those feelings. When asking someone to donate to any charitable organization. But to avoid those feelings being factored into the results of this study. The survey could have only asked the participants from a  scale of 1-7 what their willingness to donate to an organization would be. And leave out asking  for physical donations to avoid those implicit thoughts. 

Validity of Results

Lastly, some could consider the experiment being taken over the phone as a possible limitation to the study. As to the validity of the results. Answering questions over the phone can act as a natural barrier. One that hinders the connection between the experimenter and his experimentees. This hindrance could result in the experimenter receiving answers that lack thought. Moreover, emotions, or general care because talking through the phone can easily disconnect him from his responder during the survey.

This event, in turn, would put into question the validity of the answers received over the phone. And whether they represent individuals’ actual feelings about donating to philanthropic organizations. Although during Covid-19 it would be very difficult to get participants to participate in a real-life experiment. Using the facetime method on an iPhone could serve as an effective way to try and combat some of the challenges that result from purely talking to someone over the phone. Without being able to see their face. 

In terms of future findings on this topic.

It would be very interesting to investigate how gender would affect these results. Although this study did not incorporate anyone’s gender into its results. It could easily be added as a question at the beginning of the survey. Looking at the results by his, her, their, etc. Gender could definitely be a fascinating direction to take this analysis of prosocial behavior. When it becomes influenced by religion. It could demonstrate psychological reasons for how certain genders feel about philanthropic organizations. In addition, about religion. And whether they would become inclined to donate and for what reasons they would do so. 

Given the fact that all societies in modern history have been built on some form or forms of supernatural forces. The implications of this experiment could be that more and more often, organizations decide to adopt religion as a source of bringing in more cash flow or activity within their entity. Certainly, there is a lot of psychological evidence that suggests that people are more inclined to donate to a religious affiliated organization. Then they would be to donate to its non-religious competition.

So, in a modern world that usually lacks plenty of morals. Especially when it comes to money. Corporations or organizations who adopt a religious image could reap the benefits of additional capital gain. As people become more attracted to it because of its religious stance.

While prosocial behavior is good for society. It seems like an easily manipulatable force for people who seriously care about their faith.

Does being religious make you happier? Written by Liam Loveless

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Does being religious make you happier?

Does being religious make you happier?

Does being religious make you happier?

Does being religious make you happier?

Does being religious make you happier?