Divergent Effects of Activating Thoughts of God on Self-Regulation

Divergent Effects of Activating Thoughts of God on Self-Regulation

By
Kristin Laurin, Aaron Kay, Gráinne Fitzsimons
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
2012, Vol. 102, Issue 1, Pages 4-21

Despite the cultural ubiquity of ideas and images related to God, relatively little is known about the effects of exposure to God representations on behavior. Specific depictions of God differ across religions, but common to most is that God is (a) an omnipotent, controlling force and (b) an omniscient, all-knowing being. Given these 2 characteristic features, how might exposure to the concept of God influence behavior? Leveraging classic and recent theorizing on self-regulation and social cognition, we predict and test for 2 divergent effects of exposure to notions of God on self-regulatory processes. Specifically, we show that participants reminded of God (vs. neutral or positive concepts) demonstrate both decreased active goal pursuit (Studies 1, 2, and 5) and increased temptation resistance (Studies 3, 4, and 5). These findings provide the first experimental evidence that exposure to God influences goal pursuit and suggest that the ever-present cultural reminders of God can be both burden and benefit for self-regulation.