July 06, 2010
Anxiety Causes Religious Extremism?

Try this as an exercise: put yourself in a situation where you feel anxious. Then introspect. When you feel anxious do you suddenly find yourself wanting to fly an airplane into a skyscraper?

TORONTO, July 6, 2010 Anxiety and uncertainty can cause us to become more idealistic and more radical in our religious beliefs, according to new findings by York University researchers, published in this month's issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In a series of studies, more than 600 participants were placed in anxiety-provoking or neutral situations and then asked to describe their personal goals and rate their degree of conviction for their religious ideals. This included asking participants whether they would give their lives for their faith or support a war in its defence.

What do you think about when you struggle with difficult mathematical equations or proofs? Wiping out your enemies in an epic battle? Or the need for a couple of beers?

Across all studies, anxious conditions caused participants to become more eagerly engaged in their ideals and extreme in their religious convictions. In one study, mulling over a personal dilemma caused a general surge toward more idealistic personal goals. In another, struggling with a confusing mathematical passage caused a spike in radical religious extremes. In yet another, reflecting on relationship uncertainties caused the same religious zeal reaction.

I'm not remotely idealistic. So I'd go for the beer and think more about the potential for the beer silicon to make my bones stronger than the ability of a C4 vest to blow my bones and the bones of many others to bits. Some might fault me for my decadence.

Bottom line: Keep Muslims with bold personalities but low IQs out of Western math classes.

Researchers found that religious zeal reactions were most pronounced among participants with bold personalities (defined as having high self-esteem and being action-oriented, eager and tenacious), who were already vulnerable to anxiety, and felt most hopeless about their daily goals in life.

Bold guys need to be able to excel and dominate. It is an evolutionary imperative. Should they happen to believe a religion that leads them to see car bombs as the road to success then you've got a problem if they live near you. I would tend to want to keep them in smaller countries where they can achieve higher relative status. The desire for higher status causes all sorts of problems that capitalism does not solve.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 July 06 10:17 PM  Brain Spirituality

bane said at July 7, 2010 6:50 AM:

You're entirely entitled to your opinions, but the notion that you aren't an "idealistic person" is completely ridiculous. Given the number of prescriptions for society and individuals you lay out in every one of your articles, you're clearly idealistic, it's just that you want to feel that because (in your opinion, and to a degree mine) that the ideal of "realistic-pragmatism" is "the best way" that it doesn't count as idealism. (I'd also be interested to know if, like most people, when you're drinking those beers that you claim prove your aren't idealistic, if you're not haranguing your companions, and them you, about what should be done to fix the world.)

I would rate myself as idealistic, as I suspect are most people who read much about the wider world, and I don't per se see being idealistic as a bad thing rather than particular actions deriving from it. And again, I'm not criticising your right to take those positions, merely critiquing your projected image: the claim that you're not idealistic given your past writings has me spilling my tea.

Randall Parker said at July 7, 2010 4:04 PM:


Gotta disagree. Idealists are impractical. I deal with the realm of the possible and likely.


- I expect millions of species to be driven extinct by humans. I report on it here mostly to remind people that things are not going great.
- I expect the population of the planet to grow by billions with bad consequences.
- I expect the water quality of the oceans will continue to decline including acidification caused by higher CO2 in the atmosphere dissolving into the oceans.
- I do not expect education will lift up the lower classes.
- I do not expect most people will use communications technology to become well informed. Rather, games and chat and porno will continue to be far more appealing to most humans.
- I expect we will not sufficiently prepare for Peak Oil and peak extraction of some minerals or for our excessive extraction of water.
- I expect average frequency of genes for higher IQ will continue to drop for a couple of decades at least and possibly longer.
- I expect Africa will remain in its Malthusian Trap.

I could go on. Some readers get mad at me for being a futurist who isn't sufficiently Panglossian.

While I want rejuvenation therapies I expect these therapies will worsen the overpopulation problem. But I do not want to die and I do not want to grow old so that other people can have more babies.

Among the cows in Iowa said at July 8, 2010 3:44 PM:

"struggling with a confusing mathematical passage caused a spike in radical religious extremes."

I guess that explains Isaac Newton.

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