Why Do People Worship? Sex and Stress Relief, Study Says

Finally, Kay's team probed the religious and spiritual beliefs of the volunteers, none of whom picked up on the ruse after the experiment was done.

Volunteers who thought about random behaviour reported stronger religious beliefs than volunteers who pondered slimy worms and other unpleasant subjects, Kay's team reports, but only if they believed that the herbal supplement had no side effects. Given an excuse to explain away their anxiety with a pill, volunteers were happy to chose it rather than God. "You want to get rid of this anxiety and one way to get rid of it is supernatural control," Kay says.

Norenzayan, who has shown that temporary thoughts of death also make people more religious, agrees that religion can sometimes act like Prozac: "This is one of the reasons why I think religion is such an important part of human life and culture, it addresses some of these deeply rooted anxieties people have about life," he says.

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