The effects of belief in God and science on acute stress

Miguel Farias, Anna-Kaisa Newheiser

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)
    146 Downloads (Pure)


    It is widely assumed that belief in God allows people to better cope with life's stresses. This stress-buffering effect is not limited to religion; when faced with stress, nonreligious people cling on to other belief systems, notably belief in science. We report an experimental test of whether people are able to down-regulate an acute stress experience by reflecting on their beliefs. We used the Trier Social Stress Test to induce stress in religious and scientist participants from the United Kingdom by having them discuss arguments for and against the United Kingdom leaving the European Union ("Brexit"). Prior to stress induction, participants were or were not reminded of their belief in God or science. We included subjective, cardiovascular, and cortisol stress measures at multiple time points. At both subjective and cardiovascular levels, participants reliably experienced stress. However, considering one's belief in God or science did not mitigate stress responses. Religious participants were somewhat less reactive to stress induction than scientists. Despite the large correlational literature on the stressbuffering effects of faith, under acutely stressful circumstances, reflecting on one's beliefs may not confer immediate benefits.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)214-223
    Number of pages10
    JournalPsychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice
    Issue number2
    Early online date25 Feb 2019
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


    • Belief
    • Coping
    • Religion
    • Science
    • Stress

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Psychology
    • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Clinical Psychology


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