Atheists Turn to Science During Times of Stress
It's well known that religious faith can help believerscope with stress and anxiety, by providing themwith a sense of meaning and control at times ofuncertainty. It now seems that a "belief" in scienceand a rationalistic outlook might do the same for thenon-religious.
A team of psychologists led by Miguel Farias at the University of Oxford asked 52 rowers to fillin a "belief in science" questionnaire just before taking part in a competitive regatta. Theygave the same test—in which participants had to score statements such as "science is the mostvaluable part of human culture" —to a similar number of rowers at a training session. Thequestionnaire also assessed self-reported stress levels and degree of religious belief.
Farias and colleagues discovered that those about to race were both more stressed, and ratedtheir belief in science 14 per cent higher than those who were simply training. The findingsreflect a growing body of psychological evidence that people find comfort in times ofthreat by moving closer to certain aspects of their world view—conservatives become moreconservative, for example, liberals more liberal, religious believers more devout.
Farias speculates that a rationalist outlook would provide similar relief. "Any kind of beliefsystem helps you structure your perception of reality," he says. "It allows you to think of theuniverse in a particular meaningful way." The researchers have begun a similar study usingscientists who are religious to see how the two belief systems interact in response to stress.