Does a personal belief in religion actually impact self-control? This was the question that Rounding, Lee, Jacobson, and Ji (2012) set out to research for an answer. In a series of four tests that included participants “enduring discomfort, delaying gratification, exerting patience, and refraining from impulsive responses” while subtly attempting to subconsciously “activate god-related concepts” through the use of specific phrases (p. 636). For portion, participants were given tasks that may or may not be religiously primed in addition to the base of each study. The first test involved participants drinking a combination of orange juice and vinegar for $5 per cup that they could drink. The second test involved participants being given the choice to collect their $5 the next day or they could return in one week for $6. The third test involved the participants inputting passages into a computer while listening to loud music, an ego-deplition assignment, and finally were asked to complete a set of geometric puzzles that could not be solved. The final study involved participants completing two tasks on a computer involving identifying information that was shown. For each of the studies, the research team drew the conclusion that those who were given the religiously primed tasks performed better with their self-control. The team came to the conclusion that they had scientific evidence that, yes, religion impacts, encourages, and refuels self-control.
What influences your decision to practice self-control or give in? There are many behaviors and impulses that, when we’re honest with ourselves, would be nice to just throw in the towel instead of practicing self-control. When someone cuts you off in traffic, what is your initial response? Do you get angry, honk your horn, and perhaps even yell at them? If not, what is your reason for holding back? I'm sure that most of the participants would much rather have said no thanks to the offer of the idea of drinking a orange juice and vinegar drink. According to the research team, the ability to complete such a task is able to be completed because of their religiously primed manipulations and self-control.
For those who have a personal belief in God, self-control is more than a behavior or impulse control. It is known as one of the fruits of the Spirit. Galatians 5:19-26 states, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” There will be times when it is very challenging to practice self-control. Our sinful natures would love nothing better than to ignore the fruits of the Spirit. However, the fruits are evidence of our growth in our relationship with the Lord and our becoming more like what he intended for us when we were created. As a child of God, there is more to self-control than simply practicing moral behavior because of religion.
Rounding, K., Lee, A., Jacobson, J.A., & Ji, L.J. (2012). Religion replenishes self-control. Psychological Science, 23(6), 635-642. doi: 10.1177/0956797611431987