The Mind, The Mood and The Immortal: Can Religion Make Me Happy?
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Demonstrating the complexity of the human mind, religious beliefs have fascinated psychologists for decades. As for the consequences of such beliefs, a growing body of work has shown that religious people tend to report better psychiatric health compared to nonbelievers. However, the theoretical mechanisms through which this relationship occurs continue to lack empirical support. According to clinical psychologists, maladaptive cognitive distortions may explain one’s risk for mental illness if they perceive their identity, their world, and their future as inherently negative. One such risk factor may be the tendency to negatively interpret information contained in social cues, such as voices. This is because a pessimistic view of our social partners may lead to the breakdown of our support network, thereby affecting our emotional wellbeing. A logical consequence is therefore to expect religious people to perceive their social world differently to those who proclaim no such allegiance to the divine. To test this supposition, we presented around 700 individuals with a series of voice clips portraying systematic blends of happy and sad emotions. We identified the point at which individuals perceived voices to be equally positive and equally negative, expecting religious people to require more negativity in a voice before perceiving it negatively. Whilst our analyses revealed that religious people reported better mental wellbeing, the religion-health link was not dependent on any differences in social perception. As such, we continue to ponder the scientific relationship between the mind, the mood, and the immortal, asking how exactly can religion make me happy?