Monday, May 14, 2012
A Divine Way to Resist Temptation – By Jonah Lehrer
Thinking of God helps people to assert self-control—even if they're atheists
I was raised in a kosher household. Though I never fully understood why I couldn't eat cheeseburgers or pepperoni pizza—the theology still confuses me—I quickly learned to follow the rules. At birthday parties, I always informed the hosts that I preferred my pizza plain. If they forgot, I would just eat the crust.
What's odd about such self-restraint is that I was terrible at holding back my childish desires in almost every other way. Even as I skipped the pepperoni, I would often gorge myself on cake. I could deny myself lobster, but I would throw massive tantrums if I didn't get my box of Milk Duds at the movies.
Though I no longer keep kosher, I'm still puzzled by why I found it easy as a child to follow these faith-based rules. Because it's not just me: People consistently find ways to obey all sorts of onerous religious dictates. During Ramadan or Lent, for example, the observant manage to be self-denying even as they struggle to stay on a diet or hold back their temper. "The world is full of people who are fastidious about Biblical rules but can't say no to fast food," says Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. "There's something about rules from God that make them easier to follow."
According to research led by Kevin Rounding at Queen's University in Ontario and recently published in Psychological Science, Rabbi Wolpe is right: People are better able to resist their desires when thinking about God. In a series of clever experiments, the Canadian scientists demonstrated that triggering subconscious thoughts of faith increased self-control.