Religion and Self-Control

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Rounding, Kevin
Priming , Assimilation and Contrast , Self-Control , Religion
Unconscious reminders of religion boost people’s ability to exercise self-control even after they have completed an earlier self-control task. However, other research has shown that when people initially engage in a task does not involve self-control, people who are high in religiosity or who engage in personal prayer do not engage in greater self-control than do people who are low in religiosity or do not pray. The goal of the current research was to see if first completing a task that does not involve self-control similarly would undermine the positive effects of a religious prime on subsequent self-control and prosocial behavior. In the first three studies, following a task that purportedly required self-control, people who were primed with religious concepts consistently exhibited greater self-control (Study 1) or prosocial behavior (Studies 2a or 2b) on a subsequent task than did people who were primed with neutral concepts. However, after completing a task that should not necessitate self-control, the religious and neutral prime condition participants either did not differ in their performance on a subsequent task (Studies 1 and 2a) or the religious prime participants exhibited less self-control than did the neutral prime participants (Study 2b). In Study 3, a distraction task was administered in between the prime task and the dependent measure. This methodological change was sufficient to yield the religious priming effect consistently found in prior research and the first three studies regardless of whether or not the first task required self-control.
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