The impact of religious faith on desire
Why do religious youth tend to avoid negative behaviours? Shaping desires may more important than the resistance of temptations, Redeemer researcher theorizes.
2 min. read
September 30, 2016

Most people think hard partying is a typical (even celebrated) rite of passage for university students. But not everyone chooses to participate in the revels: research shows that religious students tend to participate less often in risky behaviour. Researchers have typically attributed this outcome to better self-control among students of faith. But is stronger will power really the reason religious students are less likely to engage in negative or risky behaviours?

Maybe not.

Dr. Marie Good, assistant professor of psychology, is interested in how religious beliefs and practices shape our desires, which she describes as “those emotionally charged feelings of wanting something and being motivated to obtain it.” As one of Redeemer’s 2016-17 Zylstra grant winners, Good will explore the relationship between religion and desire. She believes that, when it comes to searching for an answer to the question of why religiously devout youth tend to avoid negative behaviours, the shaping of desires may be just as (or more) important than the resistance of temptations.

“Humans are notoriously bad at saying ‘no’ to things we really want,” Good explains. “Properly-ordered desires may be a much more effective behaviour regulation strategy than efforts to resist strong desires.” Her theory is that rather than possessing the ironclad will to resist the lures of risky behaviours, religious students might not be all that “tempted” to begin with.

She continues, “Being part of a religious community or holding certain religious beliefs may have the effect of decreasing desire for certain chancy activities. Low desire, in turn, would make it easier to say no to restricted behaviours—which could explain why religious youth are more likely than their non-believing peers to pass on a glass (or two or three) of wine, or the offer to go home with that cute girl from the bar.”

“Humans are notoriously bad at saying ‘no’ to things we really want.”

With the Zylstra grant awarded by Redeemer’s Centre for Christian Scholarship, Good will test her theory about religion’s effect on desire, and Redeemer students will participate as research assistants or volunteer subjects. Besides conducting her large laboratory experiments at Redeemer, Good will also draw on data already collected with collaborators at other institutions.

From there, Good will communicate her findings in multiple spheres, from publishing academic articles to meeting with religious and public youth organizations to discuss the role of religion as a force for developing properly ordered desires. “This is an important, as-yet unexplored question,” Good states, “with the potential to make a unique contribution to our understanding of how religion affects the mind.”

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