Washington: A new study has found that if you believe God is caring and forgiving, you’re more likely to cheat on a test than people who view a higher power as being mean and punishing.
The findings emerged from two experiments involving a mathematics test in which honesty was put to the test.
In the first experiment, psychology researchers Azim F. Shariff at the University of Oregon and Ara Norenzayan at the University of British Columbia asked 61 undergraduate students to take a simple ‘but tedious’ math test which gave the students the opportunity to cheat by hitting the space bar on the computer.
Afterward, the students were asked about their religiosity, views of God and demographics.
Their views of God, which involved 14 traits, were analyzed and divided to identify the participants`` perceptions of their God’s being loving, caring and forgiving or harsh, punitive, vengeful and punishing.
The researchers found no differences in cheating between self-described believers in God and non-believers. However, students who perceive God as punitive, angry and vengeful showed significantly lower levels of cheating.
In the second study, 39 undergraduate students were surveyed several days before the cheating task, and were then given the same math test as those in the first group.
Again, students who believed in a loving God were the most likely to cheat. Again, self-described believers were no more or less likely to cheat than non-believers. In both scenarios, the "punitive God" and "loving God" significantly predicted cheating in opposite directions.
Data emerging from social psychology literature tends to find that, as a general disposition, what people believe every day doesn’t really affect moral outcomes, said Shariff.
"Taken together, our findings demonstrate, at least in some preliminary way, that religious beliefs do have an effect on moral behavior, but what matters more than whether you believe in a god is what kind of god you believe in," he said.
"There is a relationship: Believing in a mean god, a punishing one, does contribute to cheating behavior. Believing in a loving, forgiving god seems to have an opposite effect," he added.