Reminders of God can make people more likely to seek out and take risks, according to a new research.
The findings suggest that people are willing to take these risks because they view God as providing security against potential negative outcomes.
“References to God pervade daily life - on any given day you might see the word ‘God’ printed on US currency, drive behind a car with a bumper sticker that references God, or use one of the many colloquial expressions that use the word ‘God’,” said lead researcher Daniella Kupor of Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
“In fact, the word ‘God’ is one of the most common nouns in the English language,” Kupor said.
Many previous studies had indicated that religiosity and participation in religious activities are associated with decreases in people’s engagement in risky behaviours like substance abuse and gambling, but Kupor and her colleagues noticed that the risks examined in these studies tended to share a negative moral component.
The researchers hypothesised that thinking about God may have a different effect in relation to risks that have no moral connotation, since people tend to view God as a source of protection and security.
In a group of online survey studies with nearly 900 participants, the researchers found that people who were reminded of God - either by working on word scrambles that included God-related words or by reading a paragraph about God - were more willing to engage in various risky behaviours than those participants who were not prompted to think about God.
In one study, the researchers posted variations of three ads online and recorded the click-through rates for each.
There were ads that promoted an immoral risk (“Learn how to bribe”), ads that promoted a nonmoral risk (“Find skydiving near you”), and ads that promoted no risk (“Find amazing video games”).
In some cases, the ads included a mention of God (eg, “God knows what you’re missing! Find skydiving near you.”)
The findings were clear: When the ad included a reference to God, people clicked on the skydiving (nonmoral risk) ad more often, but they clicked on the bribing (moral risk) less often. People clicked about the same number of times on the computer games ad, with or without a mention of God.
“We were surprised to find that even a simple colloquial expression - ‘God knows what you’re missing’ - influences whether people click on a real online ad that is promoting a risky behaviour,” said Kupor.
Additional findings indicated that people who were reminded of God perceived less danger in various risky behaviours than participants who were not reminded of God.
They reported more negative feelings toward God when they lost their potential winnings in a risk-related game, suggesting that they had expected God to protect them from losing the money and were disappointed in the outcome.
The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.